SEIB [WSJ Washington Bureau Chief]: Some of the CEOs here had a working group earlier today, the mission of which was to address the question of how do you stay competitive. Interestingly, at least to me, their first priority — first priority was this: immigration reform. The U.S. needs immigration reform to retain talented workers educated in the U.S. and attract talent to the U.S. Immigration reform could provide an instant jolt to the U.S. economy, which we need. I know you agree with that statement, but it’s hard to see that happening right now. You’ve got the Senate off on one track. It’s passed a comprehensive bill the House won’t even agree to take up. Democrats want to do comprehensive reform; Republicans want to do step-by-step reform. It’s a poisonous political atmosphere. Can you make it happen?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am actually optimistic that we’re going to get this done. I’m a — but I am a congenital optimist. I would have to be; I’m named Barack Obama; I ran for president. So the — (laughter) –
SEIB: And won.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And won twice.
Why is that funny?
I mean, other than that the President's repartee seems a little demented? He wants us to know he "won twice"? Is that really not widely known in the circles in which the Chief Executive travels?
Psychology researchers have recorded conversations that included much laughter and then had them transcribed and ... virtually nothing anybody said was actually funny. Most conversational laughter is a sort of fear reflex to disarm uncomfortable situations. If you are the President and have drones and the NSA at your disposal, I guess you get especially boffo laughs all the time.
So look, keep in mind, first of all, that what the CEOs here said is absolutely right. This is a boost to our economy. Everywhere I go, I meet with entrepreneurs and CEOs who say, I’ve got, you know, these terrific folks; they’ve just graduated from Caltech or MIT or Stanford; they’re ready to do business here; some of them have these amazing new ideas that we think we can commercialize, but they’re being dragged back to their home countries, not because they want to go but because the immigration system doesn’t work.
The good news is that the Senate bill was a bipartisan bill. And we know what the component parts of this are. We’ve got to have strong border security. We’ve got to have better enforcement of existing laws. We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for five years, 10 years, 15 years, in some cases 20 years. We should want to immediately say to young people who we’ve helped to educate in this country, you want to stay? We want you here.
And we do have to deal with about 11 million folks who are in this country, most of them just seeking opportunity. They did break the law by coming here or overstaying their visa. And they’ve got to earn their way out of the shadows, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, pay their back taxes, but giving them a mechanisms whereby they can get right by our society. And that’s reflected in the Senate bill.
Now, I actually think that there are a number of House Republicans, including Paul Ryan, I think, if you ask him about it, who agree with that.
They’re suspicious of comprehensive bills, but you know what? If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like, as long as it’s actually delivering on those core values that we talk about.
SEIB: Democrats have been pretty suspicious that all five pieces, once it’s done –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, and — and — and — and that’s the problem. I mean, the key is — you know, what we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it — let’s say, agricultural jobs, which are important, but is easier, frankly, or the high-skilled jobs that many in your audience here would immediately want to do — but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done. We — we’re not going to have a situation in which 11 million people are still living in the shadows and potentially getting deported on an ongoing basis.
So we’re going to have to do it all. In my conversations with Republicans, I actually think the divide is not that wide. So what we just have to do is find a pathway where Republicans in the House in particular feel comfortable enough about process that they can go ahead and meet us.
This, by the way, Gerry (sp), I think is a good example of something that’s been striking me about our politics for a while. When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider; here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans — we’re fighting inside the 40-yard line, maybe –