President Barack Obama is handily winning the Hispanic vote, but his hourlong Gran Encuentro on the Spanish-language network Univision was anything but easy.
The president was repeatedly peppered Thursday with questions regarding his broken promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He was also put on the spot about U.S. preparedness overseas and his administration’s role in the failed and controversial “Fast and Furious” gun operation.
Under pressure, Obama at one point sounded as if he scuttled his hope-and-change campaign of Washington reform that he ran on four years ago.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside,” Obama said. “You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected, and that’s how big accomplishments like healthcare got done.”
Co-host Maria Elena Salinas began the interview with a pointed question about anti-American protests in the Muslim world, including the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last week that resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Salinas asked if the administration should have been better prepared.
Obama never really answered directly, and instead said that the protesters don’t represent all Muslims. He also noted the number of top-level al-Qaida members killed in Pakistan, and the terrorists being hunted elsewhere. But, Obama suggested, the “Arab spring” will have growing pains that the U.S. will monitor.
“We cannot replace the tyranny of a dictator with the tyranny of a mob,” Obama said amid a long response that didn’t say much about the preparedness of the consulate or the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that was stormed on Sept. 11.
Salinas then pressed Obama on whether the incident was a terrorist attack perpetuated by a country or a terrorist group.
“We’re still doing an investigation, and there will be different circumstances in different countries,” Obama said. “And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information.”
Earlier, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney commented on that very issue, saying for the first time that it was “self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
Previously, the administration had suggested the Benghazi attacks were more spontaneous and were tied to a controversial YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Mohammed, angering Muslims worldwide.
The fact that Obama on Thursday and Republican Mitt Romney on Wednesday sat with Doral-based Univision at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus underscores the importance of Hispanic voters, who comprise about 14 percent of Florida voters.
Polls show Obama is winning the Hispanic vote by double digits in Florida, where he clings to an overall inside-the-error margin lead over Romney.
The questions the candidates faced about the economy, foreign policy, education and drugs also showed that Hispanic voters are interested in the same issues as the rest of the electorate.
Still, immigration is a top concern — especially at Univision, and especially for Salinas’ co-host, Jorge Ramos. He has advocated for the DREAM Act, which gives a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and are college bound or serve in the military.