WASHINGTON (AP) — Donning green in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama promoted U.S-Irish ties on St. Patrick's Day as proof of America's immigrant-friendly tradition. He and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny urged Congress to follow Obama's lead on immigration.
Obama hosted Kenny, known in Ireland as the Taoiseach, on Tuesday for their yearly St. Patrick's Day meeting, before accompanying him to the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol. Obama defended the executive steps he's taken to shield millions in the U.S. from deportation, while acknowledging that due to a Republican lawsuit, those actions are "currently tied up in the courts."
"We share the view that one of the great strengths of the U.S. has always been its willingness to welcome new immigrants to our shores," Obama said. "That's what's made us unique and special."
Kenny, a familiar face at the White House after years of St. Patrick's Day visits, said U.S. immigration policies were a priority for Ireland. In a clear reference to Congress, he said he hoped that eventually the political leadership in Washington would find a way to "actually deal with this."
Vice President Joe Biden kicked off the day of festivities with a breakfast at his official residence, but drew criticism for joking as he welcomed Kenny that "anyone wearing orange isn't welcome in." Although Biden quickly added that he was joking, the quip offended supporters of the Orange Order, the grassroots organization for the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland.
William McCrea, a member of British Parliament from the Democratic Unionist Party, called on Biden, who is Catholic, to apologize. The DUP is the main British Protestant party in Northern Ireland.
"Undoubtedly if he had made such a remark about any other faith group there would be calls for his resignation," McCrea said.
Both Obama and Biden called for peace in Northern Ireland, with Obama saying there was reason to be hopeful about the Catholic-Protestant government there, but adding: "There's still more work to do."
Yet in a departure from past years, when Northern Ireland's leaders joined the White House celebration, its leaders remained in Belfast on Tuesday as they worked to salvage their troubled unity government. Last week, the Obama administration sent a warning through former Sen. Gary Hart, its envoy to the Northern Ireland talks, that First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness should stay home unless they could come to Washington with a firm new agreement in place.
"We wish them good luck and Godspeed so the people of Northern Ireland can finally enjoy the full fruits of a lasting peace," Obama said at the annual St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House, with Kenny at his side.
Obama and Kenny kept the focus on more festive topics earlier Tuesday when they joined House Speaker John Boehner and other dignitaries for an annual luncheon at the Capitol, where a four-piece band playing traditional Irish songs.
Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.
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