Why Are Eva Longoria and Rosario Dawson at the White House? Closed-Door Meetings to Build Support for Immigration Reform

By Nick Gass

Apr 28, 2011 2:24pm

ABC News' Jake Tapper reports:

President Obama is meeting with a number of Hispanic actors and journalists this afternoon in another behind-the-scenes effort to enlist support and build momentum for his vision of immigration reform.

Attendees are expected to include journalists and entertainers such as:

•             Jose Diaz-Balart, anchor of both the news program Noticiero Telemundo and Sunday public affairs show Enfoque;

•             Barbara Bermudo, host of Univision’s Primer Impacto;

•             Rosario Dawson, star of films such as Men in Black II, 25th Hour, and Unstoppable;

•             Emilio Estefan, musician and producer and former member of Miami Sound Machine;

•             Lily Estefan, host of Univision’s El Gordo y la Flaca on Univision (officially translated as The Scoop and The Skinny);

•             America Ferrera, star of ABC’s former show Ugly Betty;

•             Don Francisco (born Mario Luis Kreutzberger Blumenfeld), host of variety shows Sábado Gigante and Don Francisco Presenta;

•             Vanessa Hauc, a journalist from Noticiero Telemundo;

•             Maria Teresa Kumar, an MSNBC contributor and executive director of Voto Latino;

•             Eva Longoria of ABC’s Desperate Housewives;

•             Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor of Noticiero Univision; and

•             Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, whose radio show "Piolín por la Mañana," runs weekday mornings on KSCA in Southern California.

“The President wants a constructive and civil debate on the need to fix the broken immigration system so that it meets America’s economic and security needs for the 21st century,” a White House official said in a statement. “To do that we need to elevate the debate, and folks like these and those who met with him last week can play an important part in bringing this debate around the country, rising above the politics and false debates that too often dominate when the issue comes up, and really address why it matters economically and for other reasons in a constructive way.”

Last week President Obama told a Texas reporter that “the question is going to be are we going to be able to find some Republicans who can partner with me and others to get this done once and for all instead of using this as a political football.”

In 2009, President Obama met with a number of congressional leaders on this issue, including former presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. No compromise on legislation was able to be reached.

In 2010, after Arizona’s controversial legislation became law, the president said  "The political challenge is, is that I have confidence that I can get the majority of Democrats, both in the House and the Senate, to support a piece of legislation of the sort that I just described. But I don't have 60 votes in the Senate.  I've got to have some support from Republicans.

"When we made an effort of this sort a few years ago, it was under the leadership of John McCain and Ted Kennedy,” he said. “And because there was a bipartisan effort, we were actually able to generate a majority of votes in the Senate, and we just missed being able to get it done in the House. If we can re-create that atmosphere — I don't expect to get every Republican vote, but I need some help in order to get it done."

The White House official said today’s meeting was similar to the one the president held behind closed doors last week, on Tuesday, April 19, with a bipartisan group of individuals from the faith, law enforcement, and business communities, including:

•             National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson:

•             Bishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Salt Lake City;

•             New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly;

•             New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg;

•             President Bush’s Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff;

•             President Bush’s Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez;

•             Business Roundtable president/CEO and former GOP Michigan Governor John Engler;

•             former Senator Mel Martinez, R-Fla.;

•             Rev. Al  Sharpton;

•             AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

•             Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, and

•             former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.

An attendee of the meeting last week told National Journal that President Obama seemed focused on political strategy, not policy, telling the roughly 60 individuals in the meeting that he wanted to create conditions under which Congress could act to push a comprehensive bill. The president ended the meeting by promising to devote as much time and energy to the issue as he had to the health care law.

Of course, the president has taken some strong criticism from members of the Hispanic community for failing to meet an earlier pledge on the issue.

"What I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting," Obama told Univision’s Jorge Ramos in May 2008. Ramos has spoken at length about how the president broke this promise.

As a senator in 2007, Mr. Obama angered some in the Kennedy-McCain bipartisan group pushing the bill by five times voting for amendments that threatened to unravel the bipartisan compromise. 

-Jake Tapper

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