Obama Looks for Midterm Advantage on Job Training and Immigration
APRIL 16, 2014
President Obama on Wednesday in a classroom at the West Hills Center campus of the Community College of Allegheny County. Credit Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
OAKDALE, Pa. — President Obama, seeking to shore up support for midterm elections that threaten to cost his party control of the Senate, vowed Wednesday to improve federal job training programs and chastised Republicans for blocking an overhaul of immigration law.
Returning to favorite domestic issues, Mr. Obama visited this Pittsburgh suburb, where he met up with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to announce nearly $600 million in job training grants. He separately issued a statement attacking House Republicans for “seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system.”
The twin messages were aimed at constituencies critical to the Democratic strategy for this year’s congressional campaigns as the party battles expectations that it may lose its Senate majority.
But Mr. Obama’s words also underscored the sense that the White House is unlikely to reach any kind of agreement with House Republicans on major initiatives between now and the November elections.
The House has already passed an overhaul of job training programs, but Mr. Obama ignored it on Wednesday to focus on what he can do without congressional approval through his executive power. He announced nearly $500 million in grants for community colleges that team with businesses and trade associations to provide specialized skills and a separate competition for $100 million in grants for apprenticeship programs.
Obama Speaks on Jobs in Pennsylvania
Obama Speaks on Jobs in Pennsylvania
President Obama spoke about job training at the Community College of Allegheny County in Oakdale, Pa.
Credit Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
“The bottom line is if you’re willing to put in the work to get a job or earn a promotion in today’s economy, America’s job training system should give you every possible chance,” Mr. Obama said during a visit with Mr. Biden to the West Hills Center campus of the Community College of Allegheny County.
Speaker John A. Boehner said through a spokesman that Mr. Obama was needlessly replicating Republican efforts.
“When it comes to skills training, our first priority should be reforming our current, outdated maze of programs so that they make sense for people in today’s dynamic economy,” Brendan Buck, the spokesman, said by email. “That’s why the House has passed the Skills Act, and we urge the president to work with us to get a bipartisan bill to his desk.”
The two sides also quarreled over immigration. A day after meeting with immigration advocates, Mr. Obama released a statement critical of House Republicans, saying that they “have repeatedly failed” to fix the immigration system. He urged them to pass a bipartisan Senate bill introduced a year ago.
“The majority of Americans are ahead of House Republicans on this crucial issue, and there is broad support for reform, including among Democrats and Republicans, labor and business, and faith and law enforcement leaders,” Mr. Obama said.
After releasing the statement, Mr. Obama called Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, to talk about immigration. The call evidently did not go well.
“After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement. “You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue.”
Mr. Cantor said the Senate bill “will not be considered in the House” and urged Mr. Obama to move on to “other issues where we can find common ground,” a reflection of the divisions within his own Republican caucus on immigration and the party leadership’s inability to forge a consensus.
A White House official said that Mr. Obama actually called Mr. Cantor to wish him a happy Passover and that the subject of immigration came up.
“The call was pleasant, and I’m surprised the staff readout didn’t reflect that,” said the official, who declined to be identified discussing the private call.
Mr. Obama made his attack a day after meeting with immigration advocates who pressed him to use his powers to curb what they called excessive and abusive deportations.
After the president’s statement was released Wednesday, some advocates said they were unsatisfied because he focused only on legislation.
“A permanent immigration solution can only be enacted by Congress, and we will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for obstructing legislation,” said Patty Kupfer, managing director of an advocacy group called America’s Voice.
“But in the absence of that reform, the president can and should take bold executive action. Period,” she said.
Emmarie Huetteman reported from Oakdale, Pa., and Peter Baker from Washington.
A version of this article appears in print on April 17, 2014, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama Looks for Midterm Advantage on Job Training and Immigration.