Obama presses Republicans to end stalemate on immigration

Reuters

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Fresh from a bruising fightwith House of Representatives Republicans over the budget, U.S.President Barack Obama on Thursday urged them to work with himto overhaul the country's immigration laws.

"Let's do it now. Let's not delay. Let's get this done, andlet's do it in a bipartisan fashion," Obama said at a WhiteHouse event that was part of a renewed push he is making on oneof his top domestic priorities.

But immigration reform remains stalled in theRepublican-led House and, if anything, the budget fight thatcaused a 16-day shutdown of the federal government could add tothe struggles facing immigration reform.

In one sign of the hurdles, a spokesman for House SpeakerJohn Boehner said the House would not consider any "massive,Obamacare-style legislation," though the spokesman left open thepossibility of tackling immigration reform through smaller,piecemeal bills.

The comment hinted at the antipathy many Republicans feeltoward any initiative associated with Obama's agenda. Thatantipathy has grown after a budget struggle in which Republicanssought to weaken the 2010 health care law known as "Obamacare."

"It's too early to tell, the shutdown battle was toobruising and the dust has to settle; passions and tempers haveto decrease," said Republican strategist Ana Navarro, notingthat many House Republicans, including leadership, supportimmigration reform.

OBAMACARE TRUMPING IMMIGRATION

Still, in the shutdown's aftermath, Boehner and otherRepublicans have focused almost exclusively on problems inObamacare's rollout and have said little on immigration reform.

Boehner told reporters this week he was "hopeful"immigration reform might be addressed this year but gave nospecifics.

The Senate in June passed a sweeping measure that wouldstrengthen border security, require employers to verify workers'legal status and create a provisional status for workers as partof a 13-year path to citizenship.

House Democrats have introduced a nearly identical bill butit stands almost no chance of passing the Republican-led House.

One avenue for moving forward on immigration reform in theHouse could be to use a series of separate bills on bordersecurity and related issues that could be packaged together andform the basis for a compromise with the Senate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte ofVirginia is leading that effort. His panel passed fourRepublican-backed bills over the summer but there has beenlittle recent activity on the issue in the Judiciary Committee.

Goodlatte and the House's second-ranking Republican,Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, are working on ameasure to help those brought illegally into the country aschildren.

But there is no date set for introducing such a measure anda chief sponsor has yet to be determined, according to a Houseaide close to the situation.

California Republican Darrell Issa is also drafting ameasure that could be released as early as next week.

BUSINESS, LABOR PUSH CONGRESS

A draft of a broad immigration bill developed by abipartisan group of House members offers another alternative.But the bipartisan group, whose members include Democrat LuisGuitierrez of Illinois and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, has yetto release its proposal and members still describe it astentative.

The eight-member bipartisan group now consists of only fivelawmakers after three Republicans walked away from the talks.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organized labor, religiousleaders, law enforcement officials and agricultural groups areamong the powerful interests pushing Congress to act onimmigration.

"Obviously, just because something is smart and fair andgood for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported bybusiness and labor and the evangelical community and manyDemocrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it willactually get done," Obama said to laughter from immigrationreform supporters who attended his speech at the White House,

Liberal groups are trying to turn up the heat on Republicanlawmakers whose districts include large immigrant populations.Those lawmakers are seen as potentially vulnerable on theimmigration issue in the 2014 congressional races.

Service Employees International Union President Mary KayHenry outlined to Reuters a coordinated campaign to target 30 to35 Republican incumbents in key districts.

If progress is not made soon, many liberal groups may turntheir attention toward trying to elect lawmakers who supportimmigration reform.

If the House does not act, "we've made plans to move intomobilization drives in the districts that are vulnerable. We'reready to pivot to the ballot box if we have to," said AFL-CIOimmigration campaign director Tom Snyder.

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