Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is basking in the aftermath of his breakthrough directive on illegal immigration and pressing his jobs agenda before a meeting of Hispanic leaders, one day after they gave a cool reception to GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney and his newly softened stance on immigration.
The president was to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Friday near Orlando, his first speech to a Hispanic group since he decreed that many young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children would be exempted from deportation and granted work permits valid for two years.
The immigration initiative, announced less than five months before the November elections, delighted many in the Latino community and drew renewed attention to the key Hispanic voting bloc and its potential for affecting the presidential election with its turnout and energy. Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and aides believe he could do even better this time.
Romney, who spoke to the group Thursday, backed off the tough anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric of the Republican primaries and vowed to address illegal immigration "in a civil but resolute manner." He outlined plans to overhaul the green card system for immigrants with families and end immigration caps for their spouses and minor children.
But while he attacked Obama's new plan to ease deportation rules as little more than a "stopgap measure," he was vague about how he would treat immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents and refused to say whether he would reverse Obama's policy.
On Friday, the Obama campaign released a 110-second online video with a montage of news clips depicting Romney sidestepping questions on whether he would repeal Obama's policy if elected. "Why won't Mitt Romney give a straight answer?" the video asks.
Obama and his advisers clearly see an advantage on the issue, and Obama was expected to draw attention to his initiative Friday and call for an overhaul of the entire immigration system. He also was expected to renew his call for Congress to pass his job creation measures, which he has proposed to pay for with tax increases on the wealthy, an idea Republicans reject outright.
In addressing the Hispanic conference Friday, Obama is returning to a forum where four years ago he declared that he would push to bring 12 million illegal immigrants "out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens."
"That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day," he said then.
Obama took on the economy and health care instead and, short of a consensus in Congress, immigration lost precedence.
Though hardly monolithic in their approach to politics, most Hispanics have been voting Democratic in recent elections. Obama has risked losing some support in part because Hispanics have been hard hit by the economy. What's more, Latino leaders had also grown frustrated with Obama because he failed to deliver on his 2008 pledge and because his administration was deporting illegal immigrants in record numbers.
Then came last week's announcement, which could benefit anywhere from 800,000 to 1.4 million immigrants in the U.S.
Obama was to speak about two hours after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has been promoting a plan that would have dealt with young illegal immigrants in a similar fashion to what Obama accomplished administratively. Rubio's effort was a response to Democratic legislation, called the DREAM Act, that would have created a path to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants.
Rubio, a possible running mate for Romney, criticized Obama's policy, saying it ignored the Constitution and bypassed Congress. Romney has said he was studying Rubio's proposal but has not endorsed it.
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