White House rejects claim that Obama lacks interest in immigration reform

WASHINGTON – The White House shot back Tuesday at the only GOP senator overtly working toward a bipartisan immigration breakthrough, rejecting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s assertion that the president has done little to advance the cause.

“The president has been a strong advocate and proponent of immigration reform,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted.

But, he said, “This can’t just be President Obama. This can’t just be President Obama and the Democratic Senate. Quite frankly, it probably can’t just be President Obama, the Democratic Senate and Lindsey Graham. It has to be others.”

On Sunday, Graham, R-S.C., complained about Obama’s lack of interest and threatened to abandon his effort with Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, to craft an immigration bill that attracts bipartisan support.

“The president promised to pass the immigration reform bill in his first year. They have done almost nothing in the White House on immigration,” Graham said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Let him do some heavy lifting here on immigration.”

The Obama administration has long maintained that reforming the nation’s immigration laws would require a bipartisan effort in Congress. But critics – including immigration advocates generally allied with the White House – have complained that Obama has devoted little effort, privately and from his bully pulpit.

Obama made a passing reference to the issue in his State of the Union speech but put the onus on Congress to work out the details – an approach that immigrant advocates and GOP critics alike have complained about.

Last week, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a key Republican player on immigration, accused Obama of being so “obsessed” with health care in the past year that he ignored the issue, and seems uninterested in putting it high on the 2010 agenda either.

Gibbs said Tuesday that the president will speak with GOP lawmakers “in the near future. And we’ll gauge whether or not it’s possible to move forward on this issue.”

Graham and Schumer have drafted a blueprint that would tighten border security and workplace enforcement, create a temporary worker program and – more controversially – require biometric ID cards to block the hiring of undocumented workers. It would also create a “tough but fair” path to legal status for the estimated 12 million foreigners already in the United States without permission.

The package has yet to attract the support of any other GOP senator, and as Graham repeatedly notes, more than a dozen Democrats helped torpedo a comprehensive package the last time.

Gibbs indicated little appetite for a White House-written package – a step many reform advocates consider key to a breakthrough.

“We put out a strong statement in support of many of the aspects of the legislation that Senator Graham is working on with Senator Schumer,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, many aspects of that, the president finds greatly appealing.”

Published on 30/03/2010 20:29:33