WASHINGTON -- President Obama pitched his mammoth jobs bill to Latinos gathered Wednesday night at a black-tie dinner for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The annual gala is attended by many of the nation's most influential Hispanic leaders.
The president was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama. Seated among the guests were Her Royal Highness Princess Cristina of Spain, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
Most of Obama's 20 minute speech echoed those he delivered in Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina during the past week. In those states he called for swift passage in Congress of the American Jobs Act and outlined many of the bill's core elements, including infrastucture investments, incentives for business owners to hire unemployed workers and the closing of corporate tax loopholes.
Sandwiched between the campaign-style oratory, Obama reiterated his support for two of many Latinos' top legislative priorities: passage of the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. He blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking the political process.
"The real problem isn't the members of Congress in this room," he said to an audience which included more than a dozen congressional Democrats. "It's the members of Congress who put party before country because they believe the only way to resolve our differences is to wait 14 months till the next election."
In the absence of an immigration reform bill, Obama said the Department of Homeland Security will uphold current immigration laws while at the same time "applying common-sense standards for immigration enforcement." Progress has been made, he noted, to ensure that federal enforcement policies "prioritize criminals who endanger our communities, not students trying to achieve the American Dream." The president received spirited applause throughout the speech, and afterwards he and the first lady greeted supporters in the crowd.
But the glamorous evening belies Obama's eroding support among Latino voters. The president's approval ratings among Latinos are at historic lows, dipping below 50 percent last week for the first time ever, a loss of 34 percentage points from his all-time high of 84 percent approval in the spring of 2009. New figures also reveal that more than one in four Latinos live in poverty, a troubling statistic for the nation's fastest-growing demographic group. And with Latino voters set to cast 8.7 percent of ballots nationwide in 2012, their support is more critical to the president -- and opposing candidates -- than ever.