White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that backing from business groups, religious leaders labor and technology companies will pressure the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to act on immigration legislation.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
HANS NICHOLS: Thanks for joining us. I’m Hans Nichols filling in for Albert R. Hunt. We begin the show with White House domestic policy adviser, Cecilia Munoz. Cecilia, thank you so much for joining us.
On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner said that it has - that any immigration bill has to have a majority of a majority. Does that make passage impossible or just harder?
CECILIA MUNOZ: Well, I think that what makes passage possible is that we just had a very, very strong vote in the Senate, 68 votes, 14 Republicans supporting. And there are constituencies all over the country who cheered way out loud once they saw what the Senate was doing.
We have business leaders of every shape and size. We have faith leaders. There are law-enforcement officials. There are mayors and governors of both parties. There is strong support for immigration reform all over the country.
And there is strong evidence that immigration reform is not just good for the economy, but excellent for the economy. It reduces the deficit by almost $1 trillion. It helps create jobs. It helps grow GDP. So the reason that this is going to happen is because there is so much support all over the country.
NICHOLS: And that support translates to the Republican conference?
MUNOZ: I think it does because, again, you’re talking about the business community, from the National Association of Manufacturers, to the U.S. Chamber, to the tech sector, small businesses, faith leaders of every kind, but also this conversation is happening locally in a different way in religious congregations, in communities around the country. The country is for this and I think ultimately the House of Representatives will be too.
NICHOLS: So the majority of majority’s benchmark by Boehner is not a setback?
MUNOZ: Well, there are multiple options available for House consideration. It is important that the speaker has made it clear that the House is going to make its mark on this debate. That’s as it should be. That’s how democracy works.
But at the end of the day, the American people expect their policymakers to make policy, especially to fix what everybody acknowledges to be a broken immigration system. Inaction here is not an option.
NICHOLS: The president, and as well yourself, have been involved at least in the Senate negotiations, but for the most part you gave the Senate some space, the Gang of Eight to sort of crack, to compromise, to do the heavy negotiations themselves. Will there be a same strategy with the Gang of Seven in the House, give them space to work this out?
MUNOZ: Well, the president has made it abundantly clear that this is a priority for him. There is nobody who has any guesswork to make about that. And he has been involved by being public about his wishes, but putting out a set of principles, by talking to senators on both sides of the aisle.
And his team has been involved with senators on both sides of the aisle for just facilitating a good legislative process. What he’s going to do and what his administration is going to do is whatever helps us get the best possible bill over the finish line, because that’s what the American people expect out of it.
NICHOLS: Well, walk me through that a little bit. What is the strategy, day in, day out? Congress is obviously away on recess, July 4th. Will they come back ready, we’re more ready, less ready to sort of cut a deal?
MUNOZ: Well there is a national conversation happening about immigration reform. And there is a sense of momentum created by what the Senate just did. So we expect that conversation is going to continue. And frankly there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the House to act now that the Senate has acted. That’s clearly where the next move is.
And I think there is a lot of room for the House to do what is right here and make sure that they’re engaging and talking about border enforcement, to make sure that they’re engaging and talking about how to reform the legal immigration system, to make sure this system works equally well for businesses as well as workers, and know and you have to address the question of a pathway to citizenship, which is something that is strongly supported all over the country.
NICHOLS: And that absolutely needs to be in any final bill that the president signs.
MUNOZ: The president has made it clear. He has put out a series of principles. That’s one of them and he wants a bill that is as consistent with those principles as possible.
NICHOLS: Now I take your momentum point. Sixty-eight votes in the Senate is no small thing, bigger than the previous majorities, but at what point does that momentum run out? Are you worried about this sort of being so the clock being run out and the House not acting?
MUNOZ: Well, look, there are no hard and fast rules about every piece of legislation following the same path.
NICHOLS: Well are there deadlines? Are -
MUNOZ: There - look, it’s pretty important to get an immigration bill done this year. The Senate has acted. There is no - the House has been considering and talking about this now, not just for months but for years. You could date this debate back to 2001 when George Bush put this on the table.
The House passed a bill in 2005. This debate has been going on for a long time. There’s while it’s very important that the House speak, there is no reason that it can’t speak this summer or this year.
NICHOLS: Well there’s a difference there between this summer and this year. When we talk about momentum, will momentum run out if it’s October and we don’t have a deal?
MUNOZ: I don’t think momentum is running out on this issue because it’s clear that there’s bipartisan support. It’s clear that there’s support all over the country. It’s clear that there’s an imperative for action here. And -
NICHOLS: So perpetual momentum machine.
MUNOZ: I -
NICHOLS: Momentum does not slow down.
MUNOZ: I have to say I was in the Senate gallery when the Senate voted. The diversity of people who are in the gallery, the diversity of the statements that came out after the Senate acted demonstrate there is strong support for this all over the country. Immigration reform is going to happen.
NICHOLS: But what about McConnell’s statements? And when you look at House leaders they are lukewarm or outright hostile. And just help me understand your confidence.
MUNOZ: I actually think we’ve heard the speaker say that he intends to take this up, that the House is going to work its will. We have seen bills go through the judiciary committee as recently as this last week.
We’ve seen other important leaders like Congressman Ryan speak out forcefully in favor of immigration reform. And importantly, there are constituencies that have influence with frankly the members on both sides of the aisle, like evangelicals, like Catholic bishops, like business leaders of every shape and size, who have said, not just we’re for this but this is a priority.
We have to get this done. We can’t afford the consequences of inaction any longer. That’s a pretty strong sense of momentum.
NICHOLS: Now when you - in your other big capacity as domestic policy adviser, you do deal with domestic policy, foreign policy. Does the defeat of the farm bill give you pause at all at sort of just how tough the politics are going to be in the House?
MUNOZ: Well, look, legislating is never easy. It involves compromise. That’s what just happened in the Senate, but it is - it’s clear that there are multiple options available to the House. And the important thing is that the House act.
NICHOLS: OK. Multiple options, we’ll take that. And we’ll see what we can do with it.
Another big topic this week, gay marriage, Supreme Court ruling on it, the president in ruling in favor of it for 13 states who can go forward. And the president in Africa talked about having White House counsels get together and sort of figure out the legal aspects of this. What’s the timeline on that? How long do gay couples have to wait before they have the full benefits that other couples have in these 13 states?
MUNOZ: Well, the Justice Department is working with all of the federal agencies. There are hundreds if not thousands of statutes that are affected by this ruling. It’s important to do a careful job and it’s important to do an expeditious job. And as you heard the attorney general say, this is something that we’re undertaking as swiftly as possible. They’re going to do an efficient job but an effective job of getting this right.
NICHOLS: Now on another deadline question, student loans July 1 set to double. It doesn’t look like you’re going to meet that deadline. How can you fix this retroactively?
MUNOZ: Well, it’s important that there is an active conversation in Congress that’s trying to arrive at a solution.
And the most important thing is that we make sure that these rates don’t double, that they - that we keep college affordable for students, and that we make sure that we do it in a way that doesn’t try to reduce the deficit on the backs of students at the same time that we’re having a different discussion about whether we’re going to close other kinds of loopholes in order to reduce the deficit.
NICHOLS: So it has to be deficit neutral.
MUNOZ: So it should be deficit neutral. There’s no reason to ask students to be the ones contributing to reduce the deficit when we’re not loopholes to achieve the same purpose. But the most important thing is to make sure that the rate doesn’t double, that we keep college affordable.
If it takes - Congress should, should act to resolve this. We are eager and are working with them to try to resolve this. If it takes past July 1st, it’s still imperative to act as swiftly as possible to make sure that we keep these rates affordable for students. This is a priority.
NICHOLS: Now on the deficit talk, there’s some movement on Capitol Hill, just the beginnings of talking about buying down parts of sequestration. Are there any conversations between the White House and Capitol Hill on how you maybe do bit by bit, maybe make the sting of sequestration a little bit worse?
MUNOZ: We’re in a broad conversation about making sure that we resolve this is an effective way. That conversation has been ongoing. It’s going to continue. Our job is to make sure we get the right thing done for the American people. And we are willing to be engaged in any conversation that helps us get there, but the goal is to make sure that we get there in a way that’s effective, in a way that’s responsible.
NICHOLS: Well, I know you’re going to be engaged and I know you’re going to be busy. And I don’t think it’s going to be a very quiet August. Thank you very much for joining us.
MUNOZ: Thank you.
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