MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
For more on today's announcement and the rest of the week in politics, we turn now to E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Hi there, E.J.
E.J. DIONNE: How are you? Good to be with you.
BLOCK: And syndicated columnist Linda Chavez. Hi there, Ms. Chavez.
LINDA CHAVEZ: Good to be with you.
BLOCK: And to start with you, the Dream Act or versions of it have been dangled before liberal voters and Latino voters for almost years now. And does this essentially, the move by the Obama administration, take the wind out of the sails for Republicans who planned to say, see, Obama hasn't kept his promise to you?
CHAVEZ: Well, this was clearly a political act. I happen to think it was the right thing to do, but it has political consequences and it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out. What might happen is the Republicans might walk right into a trap. If the Republicans get very irate about this, if they begin to demand that the president rescind it or go into court to try to stop it from taking place, I think it will be a big problem for them in terms of Hispanic voters come the fall.
On the other hand, if Mitt Romney were to embrace the concept behind this - and clearly, the administration and any administration has a lot of discretion in terms of deciding how to enforce the law and that is precisely what this is, is the president said it is not amnesty, it is not a path to citizenship. It is simply saying to young people whose presence is no fault of their own here in the United States, that they will not, in fact, be sent away to a country that they may not even know.
BLOCK: And E.J., at the same time, this is not immigration reform. It's something that's temporary and could be overturned with a new administration. Your thoughts on whether it makes sense to do now.
DIONNE: Well, I think it does make sense to do now. It made sense to do it before. I think Linda's quite right that if the Republicans really go after Obama on this, that will actually help him in his political effort to increase his support and especially turnout among Latinos. Congress clearly wasn't going to pass immigration reform any time soon. A lot of the Republicans who used to support it have kind of fallen away.
Some of them aren't in Congress anymore. But the president was going to have to take the blame one way or the other if nothing happened. And so I think it was very wise to do this. It's not unlike a proposal that Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican of Florida, made legislatively and...
CHAVEZ: Of course that proposal didn't have details yet, but yes, that is brought up.
DIONNE: But it looks something like Mr. Rubio's plan and it's going to be very interesting to see what Mitt Romney does with this. As I say, I agree with Linda, it would be, I think, very foolish to really go after the president on this. That would put Mr. Romney exactly where the president wants him.
BLOCK: And Linda, you've called Mitt Romney's suggestion that illegal immigrants self-deport a fantasy, so...
CHAVEZ: It is a fantasy and worse than that - I mean, the heckler in the crowd today suggested that the people who are here, and particularly the Dream Act kids, are somehow taking away American jobs.
BLOCK: And this is the heckler in the Rose Garden heckling Mr. Obama.
CHAVEZ: In the Rose Garden, right. And this is common complaint among groups like Numbers U.S.A and FAIR and some of the other anti-immigration groups, but the fact is, this has been studied ad naseum for years and years. And when we have more immigrants, including illegal immigrants, by and large, during good economic times they increase jobs for Americans. They don't take jobs away.
And the fact is, they also leave the country and don't come in in great numbers when we're in economic hard times like we are right now. They're sort of the canary in the mineshaft. Their presence, in good times, suggests we're in a boom and when they're not here, it usually suggests we're in trouble.
BLOCK: Lots of that...
DIONNE: Can I say just very quickly that people brought over here as kids, I think, are very sympathetic figures to most Americans. It's not like these folks set out to break the law.
BLOCK: (Unintelligible) but E.J., this is a program that's going to apply to folks up to the age of 30. And there can be an argument made by critics of this that we're not talking about kids here.
DIONNE: No, but we are talking about people who came here with their parents and I think that as groups of immigrants go, this is a group that I think even people who are somewhat critical of more open immigration have some sympathy for.
BLOCK: Just a minute and a half left, but I want to talk about the dueling economic speeches earlier this week. Neither candidate unveiled any big ideas. I feel like they don't have any incentive to, Linda.
CHAVEZ: Well, I think the president's speech was all about trying to get his foot out of his mouth from last week when he suggested that the private sector was doing just fine. And his focus was to try to turn and attack the Republicans in Congress to say that if their plans, if their budget plan in the House were to go through, that it would be huge deep cuts. And so that's what his purpose was.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And E.J., what did you see happening there?
DIONNE: I think he was trying to draw a line between a bad two weeks and the rest of the campaign. I thought he had some success in doing that. He's got a more complicated case to make. Romney wants to say times are bad, Obama didn't fix it, try me. Obama wants - has to say that I know people are hurting, but I made things better, that I have some ideas, Congress is killing them but without looking like he's making an alibi.
But I think his effort to create a big philosophical argument here will be very useful for us because he is correct in saying that there are large differences between himself and Mitt Romney over the role of government in promoting economic growth and job creation and in whether the market can solve problems all by itself.
And so Obama wants a big argument. Romney wants a simple referendum on Obama and the economy. I think Obama took at least a step towards starting the big argument.
CORNISH: Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez, thank you.
CHAVEZ: Thank you.
CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.
DIONNE: Great to be with you, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.