Yesterday, Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos disrupted the typical softball decorum of Speaker John Boehner's weekly press conferences by asking Boehner, point blank, why he was blocking immigration reform. Here's the clip, via a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show:
Ramos' question was a surprise to typical Washington media types. But it wasn't a surprise to anyone who understands the difference between how the Spanish-language media treats politics.
Ramos has long been the anchor of Univision's Sunday-morning talk show, Al Punto. Now he's the evening anchor on English-language network Fusion — giving monolingual Americans a chance to see how the Spanish-language press has operated for years and why Republicans are in so much trouble with Latino voters.
The view from somewhere
Spanish-language and Latino media like Univision (and now Fusion) on television and La Opinion in print deal with politics the same way that, say, local news deals with health stories: "how does this affect you?"
When it comes to immigration reform, in particular, there's another big difference between English-language and Spanish-language media: English-language media tends to think the current fight in Congress over immigration reform started in November 2012, after the presidential election, when Speaker Boehner brought it up as something for Congress to address. But Ramos and his colleagues have been covering immigration reform's prospects since Obama promised during the 2008 campaign that he'd have an immigration bill in Congress in the first year of his term.
In 2010, when Congress took up the DREAM Act, Univision and Telemundo ran a live broadcast of the Senate's roll call vote — and after it "failed" a cloture vote 55-45, their coverage called out the members who had voted against it.
Flipping the script
During Obama's first term, the politician who had the most to fear from Ramos's taste for real talk was Obama himself. During several interviews with Univision, Ramos asked the president where the immigration bill that he'd promised was, and how he was using executive power to protect unauthorized immigrants.
In early interviews, Obama was caught off guard. But by the time Ramos and co-anchor Maria Elena Salinas got an hourlong interview with Obama during the 2012 campaign, Obama was clearly better prepared: he named immigration reform as the biggest regret of his first term, and accepted some responsibility for it not happening.
That's the context of Ramos' frustration with Boehner in yesterday's press conference. Ramos, and other reporters like him, remember very well what inaction on immigration reform looks like: they were covering it for Obama's entire first term. And now they're determined to hold Republicans accountable.
Boehner wasn't the only politician Ramos asked an uncomfortable question yesterday, either. The other was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who Ramos accused of "keeping hope alive" for Congressional action instead of pressuring President Obama to implement broad relief for unauthorized immigrants on his own.
But Reid's party is learning how to deal with the blunt questions of the Latino press. Boehner's party, apparently, hasn't. Asking the Speaker of the House why he's blocking immigration reform might be untraditional now, but as long as Jorge Ramos and the Latino press as a whole are allowed into press rooms, it's something they're going to have to deal with. If Boehner continues to try to have it both ways — leaning on his personal desire to get immigration reform done, while refusing to bring any immigration bills to the floor for a vote — he's setting himself up to learn about Jorge Ramos the hard way.