WASHINGTON — President Obama’s Rose Garden announcement of a kind of DREAM Act-like executive branch workaround was hijacked by a “journalist” named Neil Munro of the conservative website the Daily Caller. (You know, Tucker Carlson’s totally legit publication, which recently took traffic trolling to the level of giving a real gun away every day.)
As Obama tried to talk about creating what he called a “stopgap” (pointedly neither “amnesty” nor a “pathway to citizenship”) for the undocumented children of immigrants brought to the United States as young children, Obama was interrupted twice by Munro.
This was our first time to the White House and the first Voice appearance in awhile. Little did we know, as we stressed about adhering to White House press protocol, this guy was going to blow up next to us!
Without the exchange, Obama’s news would have created enough fireworks on its own. As he acknowledged in his speech, the latest version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act has been stalled in Congress for the past couple of years. Its basic tenets — that minors who have never broken the law and are undocumented by no fault of their own should have a way to stay legally in the United States, if they go to college or join the military — have been supported at one time or another by politicians as varied as John McCain, George W. Bush, and the late Ted Kennedy. Still, more than a decade after it was first introduced by Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Orin Hatch, it’s always died in the Senate, despite being quite popular with voters and among the least controversial proposed immigration reforms.
Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano have come up with a run around it (“effectively immediately”) which, while not granting a firm road to citizenship, pledges to stop the deportations of certain young undocumented immigrants. But for those of us in the Rose Garden, the drama of the announcement was hijacked by the dramatic, aggressive (and, according to people who report here regularly, inappropriately timed) questions of Munro.
“They are Americans in their hearts in their minds, in every single way but one — on paper,” Obama said of the “dreamers,” before stressing how tough he’s been on immigration (much to the dismay of immigrants rights groups, who have pointed out at that ICE raids increased on his watch after Bush).
Obama from the podium:
“Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization. Let’s be clear: This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a pathway to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure which lets us focus our resources wisely, while granting a degree of relief to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the right thing to do.
And then, things got interesting.
“Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?” Munro burst out, noticeably raising the President’s hackles.
“Excuse me, sir. This is not time for questions, sir,” the President shot back.
“Are you going to take any questions?” Munro persisted.
“Not while I’m speaking!” Obama snapped.
For a moment, all that could be heard were those outrageously loud White House birds chirping that John Stewart made fun of on The Daily Show.
Obama continued: “Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two year increments.”
Then, Obama went off his prepared remarks to address Munro directly.
“And in answer to your question, sir, and the next time I prefer you let me finish my statement before you ask that question, is that this is the right thing for the American people.”
Munro tried to jump in, but Obama cut him off. “I didn’t ask for an argument, I’m answering your question.”
“Is it the right thing for the American worker?” Munro continued.
Obama and Munro talked over each other, the former saying it was the right thing for the American people, and Munro doggedly asking why that’s so in a time of high unemployment.
Obama’s answer: “Because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and they’re already making extraordinary contributions, to our society. I’ve got a young person who is serving in our military, protecting us — our freedom? The notion that that in some ways we’d treat them as expendable makes no sense.”
He wrapped up and dipped back into the West Wing, as Munro called out, “What about American workers who are unemployed, while you employ foreigners?”
We caught up with Munro as he was making his way out of the White House. Here’s an edited transcript of our exchange:
The Voice: What’s your name?
Munro: Neil Munro, the Daily Caller. Please, put me down for asking the questions we, you, should be asking!
The Voice: This is my first time here. Do you find that the press corps doesn’t ask probing enough questions?
Munro: Does the sun rise in the morning?
I used to be Irish. If you look at British press conferences, they are a lot tougher than American press conferences. It’s ridiculous. Where are you from?
The Voice: The Village Voice. Steven Thrasher.
Munro: I wanted an answer! It’s a reasonable thing! Who do they work for?
Munro walked away and appeared to be leaving the White House grounds. The Daily Caller responded on their site.
The press corps’ reaction to Munro’s outburst was mixed. On the one hand, it was clearly a breach of protocol. On the other hand, Obama doesn’t hardly ever take questions. Munro did get him to answer him — something most reporters rarely achieve.
As for Obama’s plan itself, Congress members will see it as a blatant end-run around them and an aggressive use of executive branch power. And, whether you’re for the plan or not, it’s hard not to view it as having a huge effect on the Hispanic electorate.