Obama Raises Stakes on Immigration in Vegas Rally

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about immigration Nov. 21, 2014, at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.PlayCarolyn Kaster / AP Photo
WATCH Obama Interrupted By Protester as He Pitches His Immigration Actions

Pitching his immigration plan directly to the American people, President Obama told a rowdy crowd today that what he’s offering is a "common sense" first step to fixing a "broken system."

"Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time, and everybody knows it," Obama said.

"It's not amnesty," Obama said of his plan to shield up to 5 million people from deportation. "Amnesty really is the system we've got today… What we are offering is accountability. It is accountability. It's a common sense middle-ground approach."

Taking an exasperated tone, the president claimed he tried everything to work with Congress and chastised Republicans in the House for refusing to vote on the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.

"I cajoled and I called and I met. I told [House Speaker] John Boehner, 'I'll wash your car. I'll walk your dog. Whatever you need me to do, just call the bill.' That’s how democracy is supposed to work," he said.

"This debate deserves more than politics," he said. "This is about who we are. Who do we want to be?"

Obama also pushed back against critics who claim his executive actions poison the well for future compromise.

"Why? I didn't dissolve parliament," he joked. "That's not how our system works. I didn't, you know, steal away the various clerks in the Senate and the House who manage bills. They can still pass a bill. I don't have a vote in Congress. Pass a bill."

The president chose to return to a familiar site to kick off his campaign to sell his unilateral plan to overhaul the nation's immigration system and shield up to 5 million people from deportation.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with his actions on immigration in his office on Air Force One as he arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 2014. Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo
President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with his actions on immigration in his office on Air Force One as he arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 2014.

"Tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people is not realistic," he said.

Nearly two years ago, in this same gym at Del Sol High School, the president outlined his post-election promise to finally reform immigration in his second term.

Today, the same chants of "si se puede" (yes we can) rang out as Obama touted his move to bypass Congress and act on his own.

"I come back to Del Sol to tell you I'm not giving up. I will never give up," he said to raucous applause.

Hispanics are a powerful voting bloc in this swing state, where undocumented immigrants make up a larger portion of the population than in any other state, according to the Pew Research Center.

While the mood inside the event here was largely positive, outside protesters chanted "worst president ever" and held signs reading "Deport Obama" and "No Amnesty."

When the president's remarks were briefly interrupted by a protester objecting that not enough undocumented immigrants are covered by his executive actions, Obama agreed that more needs to be done.

"Not everyone will qualify… This is the first step, not the only step," he said. "That's why we need Congress to pass a bill."

The visit to Las Vegas also gives the president a chance to boost Democratic Leader Harry Reid in his home state in the wake of the bruising midterm loss for Democrats. Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several other lawmakers hitched a ride to Nevada aboard Air Force One.

Shortly after landing the president signed aboard Air Force One the presidential memorandum to formally give guidance to federal agencies.