Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, (Photo/courtesy of Sandra Lilley )

Top Latina at White House: “The choice couldn’t be more clear”

Tucked away this afternoon behind the food stalls and the din of delegates and press, Cecilia Muñoz, director of President Obama‘s Domestic Policy Council, was quietly working on her laptop at the Time Warner Arena, hours before Latino Texas Mayor Julián Castro was to give the Democrats’ convention keynote speech.   In an interview with NBC Latino, the former immigration attorney and activist who is now part of  Obama’s inner circle vigorously defended Obama’s record on domestic issues, and discussed why she believes he deserves to be re-elected.

The first issue Muñoz brought up was immigration.  “I’ve been a Latina activist for 25 years, working on immigration and a host of other issues, and the starkness of this choice couldn’t be more real for the Latino community,” said Muñoz.  Last week at the Republican National Convention, Republicans said President Obama’s record on immigration was a broken promise, and his deferred action policy a last-minute effort to garner Latino votes.

Muñoz says this is not the case.  “We’re talking on the one hand, a President who has made immigration reform a priority, who has tried very hard to pass the Dream Act and pass comprehensive immigration reform and hasn’t had the partners he needs on the Republican side to get the job done , that’s where the logjam is,” she says. “And on the other hand,” Muñoz adds, “you have a candidate who has embraced self-deportation as an immigration strategy – this causes unbelievable hardship across the country, not just for immigrants, but to all kinds of people who get mistaken for immigrants.  Romney is an almost unprecedentedly negative candidate when it comes to immigration reform and policy,” Muñoz says.

During last week’s convention and in campaign stops and tv appearances, Republicans have been repeating one line to voters, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Republicans argue that when it comes to Latinos, the high rates of unemployment as well as an increase in poverty and a decrease in household wealth should make Romney a clear choice.

Muñoz defends the administration’s record, saying it is going in the right direction.  ” We know economically we have more work to do as a nation, but this President has created four and a half million jobs and we have 29 straight months of job growth,” says Muñoz.  “The unemployment rate in the Latino community has gone down significantly, but it has further to go, there is no question.”

Muñoz argues Latinos need to know more about the President’s achievements, especially health care.

“Under this President, 9 million Latinos will get access to coverage, and those who have coverage now get preventive care without co-pays and co-insurance, children with pre-existing conditions aren’t discriminated against, and women in 2014 won’t be charged more than men for insurance.  Those are profound changes,” says Muñoz. She also adds the Obama administration has increased Pell Grants to 150,000 Latino students and kept student loans at a lower rate, as well as added money for Head Start.

Muñoz also went one step further, saying Obama’s policies “have been deliberately mischaracterized by the other side;  I think it’s also fair to say there has been some deliberate misleading of the American public going on.”

“If you look at for example, the ad that Gov. Romney has been running accusing the President of gutting the work requirements for welfare, that is widely understood to be patently false,” says Muñoz, “yet there’s been a huge portion of the ad budget spent on running that ad,” she says.

Right now the general election polls are pretty tight.  Among Hispanics, though Latinos widely favor Obama by a wide margin,  an impreMedia tracking poll put Romney at 30 percent following the Republican convention, up from 26 percent the week before.  For Obama’s highest-ranking Latina, though, the key to Obama’s re-election is talking about their message.

“I don’t think the choice is more clear,” she says.

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