Obama’s flexibility is a clear indication of the president’s desire to secure an elusive legislative achievement before voters decide whether to hand him even more opposition in Congress. Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on the House and have a legitimate shot at grabbing the majority in the Senate.
“I’m going to do everything I can in the coming months to see if we can get this over the finish line,” Obama said Friday of an immigration overhaul.
In an earlier compromise, Obama signaled late last year that he could accept the House’s piecemeal, bill-by-bill approach to immigration changes after months of backing a comprehensive, bipartisan Senate bill. Notably, he calibrated his comments on immigration in his State of the Union address this week.
“I think he realizes that this is a very delicate issue, it’s very controversial, and I think his recent statements have been very, very positive in allowing us to move forward,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a proponent of immigration overhaul, said Friday.
Boehner, for his part, tried to sell his reluctant broader caucus on tackling immigration this year by casting it as critical to job creation, economic growth and national security. The speaker, along with Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif., argued for action in a closed-door session with other House Republicans on Thursday at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md.
Boehner rejected the idea of a special path to citizenship.
“If Democrats insist on that, then we are not going to get anywhere this year,” he said.
The House leaders’ “standards for immigration reform” call for increased border security, better law enforcement within the U.S., a pathway to legal status but not citizenship for millions of adults who live in America unlawfully — after they pay back taxes and fines — and a chance for legal residence and citizenship for children brought to the country illegally.
But several Republicans questioned the strategy of pushing a contentious issue that divides the caucus and angers conservative GOP voters — especially since the party has been capitalizing on Obama’s abysmal approval ratings and on Democrats’ troubles in defending the national health care overhaul.
Any doubts about the Republicans’ election-year prospects were erased with news this week of the planned retirement of Rep. Henry Waxman, a 20-term lawmaker who would have become chairman of a House committee if Democrats could win back the chamber.
“Why in the world would we want to change the subject to comprehensive immigration reform?” asked Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who called it a “suicide mission” for the GOP.
Still, the business community, advocacy groups and other proponents are optimistic about House action this year, with many in the GOP arguing that it was imperative to eliminate a major political drag on the party ahead of the next presidential election.
A White House official said the details of a legalization plan would be crucial and administration support could hinge on whether those given legal status would have the option to eventually become citizens. Still, the official said the White House was buoyed by Republican progress on the issue and will be watching to see if the GOP might be willing to move closer to the president on citizenship and other aspects of the legislation.