Bill Maher Unable to Defend Obama on Liberal Immigration Reform

What happens when you get a Hollywood liberal who’s chiefly interested in boosting President Obama and attacking Republicans interviewing a single-issue liberal activist who thinks President Obama is not liberal enough?

Viewers of the May 23 edition of Real Time with Bill Maher got to see that as the HBO comedian interviewed illegal immigrant and former Washington Post staff writer Jose Antonio Vargas about his new documentary, Documented. [See video below. MP3 audio available here]

While Vargas painted immigration reform as a nonpartisan issue – realizing perhaps he needs to move Republicans into his corner on the issue to see any possibility of legislative action – Maher tried to focus the conversation where he prefers to have it: mercilessly blast Republicans and strongly laud President Obama.

When Vargas asked Maher what America “wants to do with” the millions of undocumented illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States, Maher cut in and stated “some Republicans said you should be deported.” But Vargas did not take the bait, and reminded him that “[t]he Obama administration is deporting-what?- 1.2 million people. And what am I doing? I’m talking to you.”

Later in the interview, Maher attempted to validate “the Deporter-in-Chief” in the liberal eye by claiming that Obama only deports criminals, not families. The HBO host praised Obama, “in so many issues people scream at him and then he (Obama) just calmly does the right thing, which in this case, he's not sending back families.”

Vargas hit back that this was, in fact, false.

Maher, a million-dollar donor to an Obama Super PAC, clearly has his reasons to boost Obama and discount criticisms of his hero from the left. Vargas, by contrast, may have some affection for Obama on other issues but is not about to left the president off the hook for when he fails to be as left-wing on the issue as he’d prefer him to be.

For HBO viewers however, the result is net loss. Rather than getting a more complex view of the underlying issue by having a conservative guest on to challenge Vargas, the TV audience is left hearing two liberals mull over whether President Obama is liberal enough on a given issue. It’s a wonder folks shell out their hard-earned cash to pay for this.
 

5/23/2014
Real Time with Bill Maher
10:09 PM
31 seconds

BILL MAHER: And you're brave because you purposely came out. You didn't have to. You could have stayed in the shadows. You made yourself, as they say, the face of this movement --

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: But there's a lot more people.

MAHER: By purposely outing yourself in 2011 and saying I’m here and I’m not really legal.

VARGAS: What do you want to do with us? What do you want to do with us? We can't all --

MAHER: Well some Republicans said you should be deported.         

VARGAS: Again. I'm right here. It’s not like I'm not hiding from them. All I know is I'm the most privileged undocumented immigrant in America. The Obama administration is deporting-what?- 1.2 million people. And what am I doing? I’m talking to you.

10:11 PM
50 seconds

MAHER: Now they call Obama the Deporter-in-Chief. But that's not really fair, is it? Because I feel like in so many issues people scream at him and then he just calmly does the right thing, which in this case, he's not sending back families. What he's doing is sending back criminals.

VARGAS: Actually he is sending back families --

MAHER: Like I said he’s sending back families– Really?

VARGAS: Yeah, he's deporting -- right now here in America, right, there are American citizen kids whose parents are getting deported. Like this is a moral crisis we're having in this country. And you're right, by the way. We can't place the blame solely on the president because we have a Congress that doesn't want to do anything. But what is the president going to do? He's the same president who by the way has his own immigration background, right, his father from Kenya on a student visa getting to the United States. And we never hear about that.

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.