Obama Committed to the 'Heavy Lifting' on Immigration, Lawmakers Say
By Michael A. Fletcher
A bipartisan group of lawmakers emerged from a White House meeting with President Obama today confident that the president is ready to put his political weight behind an comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
"I don't think he could have be clearer today or more committed today that he wanted to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who had previously expressed disappointment with Obama's commitment to the issue.
"He led today. He was the president of the United States and he led today."
Obama and members of his administration met with the members of Congress to begin mapping a plan to build support for an immigration reform measure that the president has said he would like to pass "later this year or early next year," according to a senior White House official.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama said he was committed to push reform, even though similar efforts failed during the presidency of George W. Bush and sharp differences separate members of Congress when it comes to immigration reform, particularly as the economy continues to struggle.
"It's going to require some heavy lifting," Obama said. "It's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policymaking over short-term politics. That's what I'm committed to doing as president."
Obama said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would join congressional leaders to form a working group on immigration reform to begin building toward a bill to better control the borders and create a legal status for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers now in the country.
"There is not by any means consensus across the table," said Obama, who described the issue as "sensitive and politically volatile."
Just hours before the president met with about 30 lawmakers, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asserted that Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill do not have the votes to pass a comprehensive reform bill. "If the votes were there, you wouldn't need to have the meeting. You could go to a roll call," Emanuel told reporters during an hour-long breakfast.
Emanuel's assessment follows that of other White House officials, who have been telegraphing for weeks the legislative challenge that immigration reform presents. Press secretary Robert Gibbs made the point at a briefing last week. And Rep. Gutierrez echoed the sentiment recently.
"With this issue, it's 'Do we have the votes?' Hell, if we had the votes, we wouldn't be calling you," Gutierrez told the Wall Street Journal, referring to conversations he had with administration officials.
But a senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) disputed the dire predictions. "The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill by a filibuster-proof margin and with strong bipartisan support in 2006, and we can do it again," spokesman Jim Manley said. "The White House should leave the vote counting to us."
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