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A pivot in priorities? Obama touts immigration reform

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President Obama, standing next to Vice President Biden, urges Congress to take back up comprehensive immigration reform while speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. (AP)

President Obama shifted focus Thursday from the pile-up of problems related to the rollout of his health care law to another prickly political topic: immigration.

Obama made his case for comprehensive reform at a White House event and insisted that Congress had enough time to pass the immigration bill by the end of the year.

“It doesn’t get easier to put it off,” Obama said.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill on immigration, but the measure has stalled since being sent to the House.

The lower chamber of Congress has just five legislative weeks left to push the plan through – something Obama as well as House Speaker John Boehner believes can be accomplished.

“I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed,” Boehner told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this week. “And I’m hopeful.”

However, almost immediately following the president’s speech, Boehner’s press spokesman released a statement saying the speaker was opposed to the Senate immigration package.

“(Boehner) has been clear that the House will not consider any massive, ObamaCare-style legislation that no one understands,” Brendan Buck said in a written statement. “Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way.”

During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gave a downcast assessment about Congress’ ability to pass the landmark immigration bill, arguing that members of his own party had become leery about dealing with Obama following the recent battle over the government shutdown.

“Immigration reform is going to be a lot harder to accomplish than it was three weeks ago,” Rubio, who helped pass the Senate legislation, said.

Still, Obama, seemed to rally Thursday, telling an audience of business, community and labor leaders that the time to pass the landmark bill is now.

“Everybody knows our current immigration system is broken; across the political spectrum people understand that, he said. “We’ve known that for years it’s not smart to invite some of the brightest minds in the world to study here and not start businesses here and we send them back to their home countries to create jobs, invent new products someplace else.”

Obama also took the opportunity to take a swipe at the political in-fighting in Washington.

“Now, obviously, just because something is smart, and fair, and good for the economy, and fiscally responsible and supported by businesses and labor, the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean it will actually get done,” he said. “This is Washington after all. So everything tends to be seen through a political prism. Everybody has been looking at the politics of this. I know everyone in this town is primed to think, well if Obama is for it, then I’m against it.”

The Senate bill passed over the summer offers undocumented immigrants who entered the country before 2012 a 13-year path to citizenship. 

The legislation also takes steps at reforming visa programs as well as beefing up security at the borders.