Obama says immigration, minimum wage top agenda

CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press
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President Barack Obama winks as he is welcomed before speaking to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Cambridge, Md., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Barack Obama winks as he is welcomed before speaking to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Cambridge, Md., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

CAMBRIDGE, Md. (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that top priorities for Congress should be increasing the minimum wage and overhauling the immigration system, while acknowledging that election year politics could complicate the effort.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden delivered pep talks to a House Democratic retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, less than nine months before the lawmakers face re-election amid widespread voter disapproval of Congress.

The president and vice president called for sweeping changes to immigration laws, but Republican leaders have all but ruled out passage before the midterm election. Obama urged the Democratic crowd to keep working for it and insisted some Republicans want a deal.

“But they’re worried, and they’re scared about the political blowback. And look, everybody here is an elected official and we can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year,” Obama said.

But he argued that putting off the matter “hurts people. It hurts our economy. It hurts families.”

Biden was more partisan in his remarks, suggesting the Republican Party is too fractured to be effective.

He urged the Democrats not to focus “on the few things we do have problems with” and argued that Americans back them on issues including raising the minimum wage, expanding early childhood education, immigration reform, gay marriage and even health care.

“Let’s go out and make every single effort not just to defend but to aggressively push our agenda,” Biden said. “They are with us.”

And for any lawmaker who might not be feeling so confident, Biden said, “I can imagine our prospects being viewed by the press and everyone else as being a whole hell of a lot brighter by the time we turn to September than now.”

The president also thanked lawmakers for banding together to increase the government’s debt with no strings attached in legislation that Congress approved this week, and standing behind his health care law through its troubled rollout.

“I just want to say thank you for all of you hanging in there tough on an issue that I think 10 years from now, five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement that could not have happened had it not been for this caucus,” Obama said.

The president did not mention an issue that has caused divisions within his party. Obama wants greater leeway to make trade deals. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week that it’s “out of the question.”

Obama’s and Biden’s remarks came in brief appearances before Democrats before reporters were ushered out of the room as they took questions. The large ballroom was not full, with some empty tables, as some lawmakers apparently skipped the retreat because of the East Coast snow storm.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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