President Barack Obama said Thursday that not getting comprehensive immigration reform passed has been his “biggest failure” as president.
Asked for his biggest failure while in the White House, Obama responded, "My biggest failure so far is we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done, so we’re going to be continuing to work on that."
But Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, "It’s not for lack of trying or desire, and I’m confident we’re going to accomplish that."
The comments came while Obama was addressing a Hispanic "Meet The Candidates" forum in Miami, a day after his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, wooed voters at the same event.
Immigration was the top issue of the forum, held Thursday afternoon at the University of Miami.
Shortly after it began, a moderator asked Obama why he failed to keep his 2008 campaign promise to deliver immigration reform. Obama responded by recalling the dire economic situation when he took office and said that took up a huge amount of time in his first year. But he said he tried to work with Congress to get a deal done.
“What I confess I did not expect, and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naïve here, is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform – my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it, and who attended these meetings – suddenly would walk away," Obama said, referring to Arizona Senator John McCain. "That’s what I did not anticipate."
“We initiated the meetings, had a series of meetings, and what we could not get was a single Republican, including the 20 who had previously voted for comprehensive immigration reform, to step up and say we will work with you to make this happen," Obama added.
Obama sought to draw a contrast between himself and Romney on immigration at the forum. The president cited his June executive order halting the deporation of undocumented youths and his commitment to the DREAM Act, which he said his Republican opponent has said he would veto.
Romney spoke at the forum Wednesday and told listeners in Coral Gables Wednesday that he is "concerned about the fact that over the past four years, life has become harder for Americans."
He also addressed his "47 percent" comments released earlier this week, saying he is concerned about all Americans.
"My campaign is about the 100 percent of America, and I am concerned about them. I am concerned about the fact that over the past four years life has become harder for Americans, more people have fallen into poverty," Romney said.
Obama responded to Romney's comments with a rhetorical jab on Thursday.
“When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven't gotten around a lot," he said. "Because I travel around the country all the time, and the American people are the hardest-working people there are.”
Obama began the forum at UM by saying that after the anti-American violence that killed the American ambassador to Libya, his administration's goal is to make sure that American embassies are safe and to bring the people responsible to justice.
The president also addressed the issue of deportations, which have risen during his tenure in the White House.
“We will continue to make sure that how we enforce is done as fairly and justly as possible. But until we have a law in place that provides a pathway to legalization and to citizenship for the folks in question, we’re going to continue to be bound by the law, and that’s a challenge," he concluded.
After his forum Wednesday evening, Republican candidate Romney made a pitch to Hispanic voters at a rally in Miami.
"This party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope," Romney told the crowd.
The Republican nominee referred again to a video of Obama made in 1998. Obama, then an Illinois state senator, said he believed in income redistribution, "at least to a certain level to make sure everybody's got a shot."
“There are people who believe that you can create a stronger economy and a brighter future if you take from some people and give to other people,” Romney said. “Other places that have tried that haven’t done so well. That is not a philosophy that’s ever been tried here. We’re not going to have it here. We’re going to get America back to having free people pursuing their dreams in a free country!"
Going into Thursday's presidential visit, the Obama For America campaign released a statement saying despite what Romney said in South Florida, his plan is to "redistribute hard-earned middle class income to those at the top."
At the Univision event, Obama was asked why he didn't issue his executive order before the 2012 campaign. He pointed out that he was winning the Latino vote before he took the action.
He said he issued the order because of young people he met across the country.
“If you heard their stories there’s no way that you would think that it’s fair or just to have them suffering under a cloud of deportation," he said.
While discussing his failures, Obama also said that not being able to change the tone in Washington is disappointing – though he said he has faced Republican opposition since the day he took office.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments, like health care, got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out," Obama said. "That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families. So something that I’d really like to concentrate on in my second term is being in a much more constant conversation with the American people so they can put pressure on Congress to help move some of these issues forward."