WESTON, Mass. - Vowing not to give up on an overhaul of immigration, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he "fundamentally rejects" the notion that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary election defeat means that tackling immigration legislation is now out of reach.
"It's interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts, and some conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now," Obama told about 40 big-dollar donors in this Boston suburb. "I fundamentally reject that and I will tell the speaker of the House he needs to reject it."
Cantor of Virginia lost his Republican primary race to Dave Brat, an economics professor who was backed by the tea party. Brat labeled Cantor a supporter of amnesty for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Cantor initially backed limited legislation to help young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children and argued he was a staunch opponent of amnesty.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, pointed out that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had been deeply involved in passing the Senate immigration bill and still defeated a slew of primary opponents Tuesday night.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has already passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill that increases border security and provides a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who entered the country illegally. But the Republican-controlled House, led by House Speaker John Boehner, has yet to act in the face of stiff opposition from conservatives.
Before meeting with donors Obama delivered a commencement address at a technical school in Worcester, where he said 30 to 40 percent of the students were children of immigrants.
"You wouldn't know it looking at them because they are as American as apple pie," he told the donors. "They're worried about whether they're going to be able to finance their education because of their immigrant status. They wonder whether this country that they love so deeply loves them back."
Obama joked that when he is asked what he wants for Father's Day or Christmas or his birthday he says the top of his list is a "loyal, rational opposition," one with which he could negotiate and compromise.
"Unfortunately that's not what we're seeing in Washington from the Republicans," he said.