Homeland Security

Obama, top Dems now appear to be pushing for comprehensive immigration reform

FILE: Dec. 20, 2013. President Obama in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.

FILE: Dec. 20, 2013. President Obama in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.  (AP)

President Obama and his top Democrats on Capitol Hill appear to have reset their sights on the Republican-controlled House passing comprehensive immigration reform, instead of a step-by-step process, as lawmakers leave Washington for the Christmas holiday break.

The president on Friday appeared to urge the House to back the comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill the Senate passed this summer -- a departure from recent comments that suggested Obama was OK with the lower chamber’s apparent piecemeal plan.

“The Senate bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy, give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country,” Obama said in the year-end press conference. “So let’s go ahead and get that done.”

Though Obama has pressed House Republicans hard in the final months of 2013 on immigration reform, his remarks this week appear in contrast to him saying in November that he had no problem with House leaders carving the immigration bill into, say, five pieces.

“As long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like," he told The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council. "What we don't want to do is simply carve out one piece of it . . . but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done."

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said he will neither scheduled a vote on the Senate bill, as Vice President Biden called for last week, nor negotiate with Senate Democratic on the upper chamber’s legislation.

“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” The Ohio Republican said last month.

Though the House has yet to vote on any part of an immigrations bill, the chamber appears to be concerned first with securing the U.S.-Mexico border and not including a path to citizenship for some of the estimate 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada, appeared to continue the shift among Democrats when he suggested this weekend that Boehner will negotiate next year on comprehensive reform.

Boehner has indeed expressed a willingness to pass reform, despite some opposition from the chamber’s conservative wing. But he purportedly wants to wait until after the congressional primaries this spring and summer.

“I think that John Boehner will conference with the Senate,” Reid told The Hill newspaper, suggesting that Boehner can triumph over the Tea Party like he did earlier this month in getting the votes to pass the House-Senate budget bill.  “I was very impressed with his saying, as far as I’m concerned, what was long overdue. The government shutdown, it was being driven by these people he criticized.”

Reid also suggested that House members facing reelection in Democratic-leaning or middle-of-the road districts might need to vote for immigration reform.

Still, any effort to push a bill perceived by conservatives as too light on border security and too lenient on legalization is sure to face stalwart opposition from some outspoken Republican Party members including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Reps. Steve King, of Iowa, and Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina.

Even Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, a Tea Party-back lawmaker who co-sponsored, now appears to favor a more piecemeal approach.

“The most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” a Rubio spokesman said this fall.