Following sharp criticism of his commitment to the Latino community during speeches by presumptive GOP nomineeand Senator , President responded in kind Friday afternoon by offering a clear contrast to his Republican adversaries during a key election year address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (“NALEO”). Speaking only a few hours after Rubio, who had told the conference that the President “has not made Latino issues a priority” and offered as proof the fact that the President “hasn’t been to the NALEO conference in the three years since he took office”, Obama seemed unfazed by Rubio’s criticism and instead focused his energy on connecting with the audience and contrasting himself with Romney early and often.
The President began his speech by discussing the vital role of “Dreamers” in helping to fuel the economic engine of America and discussed how immigrants have always been “risk takers, not looking for handouts and some of the hardest working people around.” He then asked the crowd about the kind of vision the Latino community was looking for in their President, specifically asking “what vision do we stand for, who do we fight for?” in reference to Romney’s policies which the President claims would favor the rich and result in a return to “trickle down” economics. He further contrasted his vision from Romney’s by discussing his focus on expanding education opportunities through expanded Pell grants, encouraging community colleges as a bridge to a higher education, and not teaching to a test and instead focusing on expanding curriculums instead of slashing funding like the GOP in Congress and Romney have favored doing by gutting the Department of Education.
The crowd of officials seemed receptive to the President’s message on education, and that didn’t change when the President shifted to discussing his record in what appeared to be a direct response to Romney’s claim the day before that “President Obama doesn’t respect the Latino vote.” He began by mentioning that his administration has already cut taxes 18 times for Latino small business owners and for Latino middle class taxpayers, he discussed the impact of health care reform on the Latino community, the fact that under the Affordable Care Act Americans will no longer go broke because they are sick. He highlighted the fact that Latino’s have the highest uninsured rate and that it was the “right thing to do passing health care reform.” Finally, he qualified the progress made thus far with the fact that there is more to do, that we need to put more good teachers in our class rooms, need to put people back to work restoring our infrastructure.
Next, the President addressed the need for Congress to take on comprehensive Immigration “in order to continue attracting talented hard working people who believe in this country.” He mentioned that the delay in action on immigration has not been a lack of technical knowhow on how to fix the system, and he used the work put in to the issue by McCain, Bush, and, showing there was bi-partisan support at a point in time not long ago. He then blamed the stale mate on obstruction caused by Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in Congress. In stark contrast to Romney who said he would veto the DREAM Act, The President also argued that Congress should have passed the Dream ACT because it was a bill written by both parties. He drove home the point by pointing out that the Republicans who helped write the bill blocked it in the end, and that “the need didn’t change, the bill didn’t change, the only thing that had changed was politics.” He then went on to justify his administrations action stating that “lifting the shadow of deportation and giving these children an opportunity” was the right thing to do. He called it a temporary measure, and reiterated that Congress needs to act and send a bill to his desk ASAP.
Finally, the President closed his speech by discussing larger election year themes with a familiar 2008 feel. He discussed with refound passion the need for unity as a country, regardless of party or ideology, to fully recover from the financial collapse, and mentioning that “an enduring promise of America” is what truly drives immigrants to America. He mentioned how his own story would not have been possible in any other country, and he drew an effective us versus them type distinction between his vision and that of Mitt Romney when he wrapped up stating that the march toward freedom and equality has always been tough, and that people have tried to stop the progress of minorities over time, but that in the end those fighting for equality and justice prevailed with a resounding “yes we can, si se puede.” The President's closing drew a huge applause from the conference crowd that was nearly twice as loud as that of Mitt Romney's closing remarks the day before.