WASHINGTON -- The White House is preparing a major grassroots push to pass the DREAM Act next year, which President Obama said Wednesday was one of his top priorities after the legislation failed in the recent lame duck session. Acknowledging the next Congress will be much more resistant to the President's agenda, the White House also backs changing the rules of the Senate, although it won't get involved in specific proposals.
On a conference call with journalists Wednesday, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the President is willing to "wage a very public campaign" to push the DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. He added that grassroots activism will be essential to success.
"The President always said on the campaign trail that change comes from the bottom up, and on issues like the DREAM Act, it has to, because there's some real resistance in Washington -- primarily in the other party, but some in our own -- and I think we're going to need to get people activated, and I think you'll see a lot of that over the next months and years," said Pfeiffer in response to a question from The Huffington Post.
During a news conference Wednesday, Obama said he will be reaching out to Republicans who may believe "in their heart of hearts" that passing the DREAM Act is the right thing to do but think the politics are tough.
"Well, that may mean that we've got to change the politics," said Obama. "And I've got to spend some time talking to the American people, and others have to spend time talking to the American people, because I think that if the American people knew any of these kids -- they probably do, they just may not know their status -- they'd say, of course we want you. That's who we are. That's the better angels of our nature."
Pfeiffer said the White House was also frustrated with the slow pace of confirmation for the President's judicial and staff nominees. In the past, Obama has endorsed changing the rules of the Senate, stating, "I will say that, as just an observer of our political process, that if we do not fix how the filibuster is used in the Senate, then it is going to be very difficult for us over the long term to compete in a very fast moving global environment."
Pfeiffer, however, said the White House will not endorse any specific proposal because it's an issue the Senate needs to work out itself. "I'm not sure a president getting involved in a legislative branch matter like that would be viewed as constructive by the other branch," he said.
As The Huffington Post has reported, senators leading the filibuster reform effort have said bipartisan support is building up around three proposals: 1) No longer allowing senators to filibuster the motion to proceed and instead allow a set amount of time for debate, 2) ending secret holds, and 3) stopping filibustering senators from hiding behind quorum calls and forcing them to speak up if they block a bill. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said to expect "fireworks" on Jan. 5, 2011, the day on which the Senate can, he argued, revamp its rules by a simple majority vote.