POLITICS
09/22/2014 07:04 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

Nancy Pelosi: 'Republicans Get Off The Hook' When Immigration Activists Target Democrats

WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that immigration activists would be letting Republicans off easy if they made Democrats and President Barack Obama the focus of their ire come Election Day.

"I think that the anger is not placed in the right direction, and Republicans get off the hook," she told The Huffington Post. "They did nothing and people are picketing the president. I mean, [Republicans] don't pay a price for that?"

Pelosi was speaking from Salt Lake City, where she was set to receive an Excellence in Leadership award from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Her remarks underscored a bubbling concern in Democratic circles that immigrant communities are abandoning Obama, or the political process altogether, after years of legislative inaction. Back in Washington, undocumented immigrants protested outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Monday over the president's decision to again delay executive action that could protect them from being deported.

Pelosi is sympathetic to their plight. She pushed for immigration reform and supports Obama taking executive action. But while she appreciates the mounting frustration over the lack of movement, she said the protesters were aiming their fire at the wrong people.

"Republicans must be having a nice lunch at the club, laughing up their sleeves that they did nothing, that they took us in the wrong direction, and the picketers are at the Democratic National Committee," she said.

Pelosi's plea spotlights a tension that's existed for years within the immigration advocacy community and that's been amplified in recent weeks. Hoping to flex their muscle within the political process, Latino activists have been forced to decide whom to attack: Republicans, who have blocked reform from even being considered in the House this year, or Democrats, including a president who promised to take executive action that could aid some undocumented immigrants and then pushed back his timeline to after the election.

To date, Republicans have been on the receiving end of advocates' criticism far more often than their Democratic counterparts. But with the president already overseeing a historic number of deportations, concern is mounting that Latino voters will just stay out of the process entirely this election cycle.

Pelosi said she hoped that Obama would have taken action sooner. But what is important is that he plans to act, she said.

"I know for sure that the president will do what he can do by executive order before the year is out," she said, echoing the administration's promise to meet its new self-imposed deadline of year's end despite previous delays.

The White House justified the delay as necessary to prevent further harm to the chances of legislative immigration reform in the future. While Pelosi didn't make that specific point, she said it is important that activists remember that an executive order doesn't have the permanence that a law would.

"Understand this, the Republicans had the power to pass a law and they didn't," she said. "You want to make a difference -- go sit in front of the Republican National Committee."

Javier Palomarez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that he, too, wants to see Congress pass a bill rather than relying only on the president's executive orders. Though he called on Obama to have "political courage," he argued that culpability for the lack of reform ultimately rests with the legislative branch.

"The reality of it is that we need Congress to act. So to create a situation where Obama takes the fall on this and he's the one at fault, I don't think it's accurate, I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it's the right thing to do," Palomarez said.

The likelihood that this Congress will act during its post-election lame duck session, however, is less than remote. With Republicans likely to have a bigger majority in the House and a possibility majority in the Senate next year, Democrats are looking at an incredibly narrow path forward for any legislative action. Republicans may well end up deciding that it's in their political self-interests to pass reform before the 2016 presidential race. But there will be a host of candidates running for the presidential nomination who will try to appeal to the GOP base by knocking such thinking.

Looking back at the past year and a half, Pelosi said she was frustrated that she and fellow House Democrats had tried to accommodate Republicans' requests to give them time and space to pass reform. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake, she said, because the Democrats "have nothing to show for it."

"I think that may have been the wrong approach, because they didn't do it," she said.

The best way to push Republicans to take up immigration reform would be for Latinos and others who support reform to vote, Pelosi said.

"The real message that reaches Republicans is at the ballot box," she said. "And that's where they have to feel the impact."

HuffPost

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