While taking hits from Latinos on deportations, President Barack Obama Thursday seized an opportunity to show he has delivered on a promise to the Hispanic community.
Obama appeared side-by-side with new Housing Secretary Julián Castro for the former San Antonio mayor's first week as head of the behemoth Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Castro, whose twin brother Rep. Joaquín Castro serves in the U.S. House, is seen as a potential top-of-the-ticket contender as either president or vice president for Democrats.
Obama urged the employees to welcome their new boss, whom he said is young, got drive and good looking. Castro stood nearby and smiled and nodded with some embarrassment. Castro takes over for Shaun Donovan, who is now Obama’s budget director.
“No one is more passionate about these issues than Julián. He knows the difference between smart policy that can make a difference and just talk,” Obama said.
Castro was sworn in Monday, bringing the number of Latinos in the Cabinet to four of the 15 Cabinet positions. In all, six Latinos have served in Cabinet positions under Obama’s two terms as president. Latino groups had pushed Obama to do better in his second term in Latino appointments. While Castro's work will be for all Americans, advocates said the increased Latino presence better reflects the U.S. population and brings diverse experiences to the table.
“HUD is the Department of Opportunity,” Castro said before introducing Obama. “Everything we do, whether it's working with local communities, revitalizing them or making sure borrowers get their first home or helping after disaster has struck, we ensure that Americans can reach their American dream.”
Obama’s speech was styled as a pep talk for HUD employees, but kept with recent speeches he’s given intended to lift American views of the economy, even as Congress has been unable to pass major legislation and Obama is dealing with several world crises.
“Sometimes it seems the agenda you are trying to pursue to help working class families, sometimes that seems that is not the priority up on Capitol Hill,” Obama said.
“I got two and a half years left and I want to squeeze every single day, I want to squeeze as much out of every single day,” Obama said, the cheering HUD workers drowning out some of his comment.
Just before Obama spoke at HUD, Republicans were regrouping on a $659 million spending bill meant to address problems at the border.
A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, but it faced some opposition from within the GOP from some who felt it didn’t go far enough to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. A group within the GOP also wanted to repeal deferred action allowing eligible young immigrants who were brought here as children to work and study without fear of deportation.
Obama has faced some criticism over the failure of immigration reform to move through Congress and for the more than 2 million deportations that have occurred under his watch.
A recent Associated Press-GFK poll showed 66 percent of Hispanics say the children who claim they are fleeing violence should be treated as refugees.
But housing also is a major issue for Latinos. Studies showed that Hispanics and African Americans were hardest hit when the recession hit, with much of their wealth being tied to home ownership.
About 46 percent of Latino households are owner-occupied, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. That compares to 72 percent of white households.