President Barack Obama on Saturday blamed the border crisis for his delay in taking executive action on immigration reform, saying "the truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer."
"I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, … to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy," Obama told Chuck Todd on NBC News' "Meet the Press."
The interview, which marks Todd's debut as host of the venerable news program, will be broadcast on Sunday. Todd, the network's chief White House correspondent, replaced the embattled David Gregory, who was ousted last month.
President Obama said on Saturday that he would delay taking unilateral action on immigration until after the November congressional elections. The decision enraging reform advocates and led Republicans to charge that Obama was acting merely to protect the Democrats from losing the Senate.
More than 67,000 illegal immigrant minors have been apprehended at the U.S. Border since Oct. 1, with the administration estimating that as many as 90,000 could be taken into custody by the end of the month.
Obama has termed the situation "a humanitarian crisis," while Republicans have attacked the White House for creating the situation with its lax enforcement of immigration policy.
The president made the decision to delay taking action as he returned Friday to Washington from a NATO summit in Wales, according to two White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He called a few allies from Air Force One to inform them of his decision, the officials said, and then called others from the White House on Saturday.
In his NBC interview, Obama denied that he delayed executive action to protect vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election this fall. "That's not the reason," he responded when Todd suggested it in a question.
"I have been consistent about why this is important," Obama said. "The country's going to be better off if we have an immigration system that works — that has strong border security, that has streamlined our legal immigration — so the best and the brightest who want to stay here and invest here and create jobs here can do so.
He added that the immigration system would be reformed such that "families can be unified — and that a system where the millions of people who are here, in many cases, for a decade or more — who have American kids, who are neighbors, oftentimes, are our friends — that they have a path to get legal.
Such a system, he added, would have illegals "paying taxes and getting above board, paying a fine, learning English," Obama said.
"The good news is we have bipartisan support for that," the president added, referring to the Gang of Eight comprehensive reform bill pass last year by the Senate. He blamed the stalemate on Republicans in the House of Representatives.
"The House Republicans refuse to do that. And what I said to them was: 'If you do not act on something that's so common sense that you've got labor, business, evangelicals, law enforcement, you've got folks across the board supporting it, then I'm going to look for all the legal authorities I have to act.' "
This all changed, however, with the border crisis, the president said.
"I'm being honest now about the politics of it," Obama began. "This problem with unaccompanied children that we saw a couple weeks ago, where you had, from Central America, a surge of kids who were showing up at the border, got a lot of attention.
"And a lot of Americans started thinking, 'We've got this immigration crisis on our hands,'" Obama said.
He noted that fewer illegals have been arrested at the border in recent months — "it's far lower than it was 10 years ago," he said — and that many of the illegal minors have been placed with sponsors in the U.S.
"But that's not the impression on people's minds," Obama told Todd. "And what I want to do is, when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it's sustainable."
He said that he has received preliminary proposals from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, "and what I've determined is that I want to make sure we get it right.
"I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country," President Obama said. "But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children, and why it's necessary."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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