President Obama on Tuesday summoned leading CEOs to the White House to showcase support for a broad immigration reform package, telling Republicans that the business community's position should make it "easy" to get the measure through the House.
But Republican leaders may not be swayed by their traditional business allies. They point to the failed rollout of Obamacare as clear proof that a massive bill — such as the immigration measure that passed the Senate this year — is the wrong approach and would lead to even greater problems.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and others in his party also may feel emboldened to scrap the Senate plan and move forward with smaller, targeted pieces of legislation after a coalition of influential conservative groups urged them Tuesday to do just that.
"The House of Representatives is in a unique position to propose genuinely conservative solutions to fix our broken immigration system. We, therefore, encourage the House to continue its work to address the different aspects of the immigration issue in a piecemeal basis," reads a letter signed by the heads of the American Principles Project, the American Conservative Union, Conservatives for Immigration Reform, the Hispanic Leadership Fund and other organizations.
The groups urged House Republicans to pursue "legal status to undocumented immigrants, but not a special path to citizenship," a key difference from what the Senate has approved. The groups also called for the establishment of "market-oriented mechanisms to meet the demand our economy has for foreign workers."
"If President Obama and the Democrats are willing to kill immigration reform in the House because they disagree with these principles, it would show that they are more interested in using the issue politically than actually solving the problem," the letter said.
With House action on the Senate bill becoming less likely each day, the president mounted a perhaps last-ditch push to spur Republicans to action and, in turn, give the White House a major victory on one of its key second-term domestic policy initiatives.
At the end of the government shutdown last month, Mr. Obama identified three challenges — a long-term budget, immigration reform and a farm bill — that, he said, realistically could be addressed on a bipartisan basis in the coming months. With a farm bill still in limbo and budget negotiations between House and Senate leaders just getting underway, the president has thrown his full weight behind the push to enact a far-reaching immigration bill and give the administration a badly needed political win.
"Although right now there has been some resistance from House Republicans, what's been encouraging is there have been a number of House Republicans who think this is the right thing to do," Mr. Obama said just before he met with some of the nation's top CEOs, including the heads of McDonald's, Lockheed Martin, Motorola Solutions and Marriott.
"It's my estimation that we actually have the votes to get comprehensive immigration reform done right now. The politics are challenging for the speaker and others. We want to make it as easy for him as possible. This is not an issue where we're looking for a political win. This is one where we're looking for a substantive win for the U.S. economy."
Mr. Obama is correct when he speaks of bipartisan support; 14 Senate Republicans supported immigration reform when it passed the chamber over the summer.
In addition, a handful of House Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors to a House proposal that mirrors the Senate version.
But amid the troubles with Obamacare and a growing recognition that the White House may have oversold and underdelivered on its health care reform legislation, House Republicans have a new argument to sink the Senate plan and instead pass smaller measures.
"If the president is insisting on one massive, Obamacare-style bill that people don't understand, we aren't going to get very far," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner. "The speaker has made clear publicly and privately that, while it's important we address immigration reform, the House is not going to consider the Senate plan. Instead, we remain committed to a common-sense, step-by-step approach that gives people confidence immigration reform has been done the right way."
Opposition to the Senate bill is coming from quarters beyond Capitol Hill and outside the political realm.
As the president met with the CEOs, the labor union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents wrote a letter to those same business leaders denouncing the plan and calling on the House to make sure it advances no further toward becoming law.
"Only the U.S. House of Representatives now stands between the American people and the potential destruction of federal immigration enforcement," said Chris Crane, the union's president. "Yet the groups represented on this letter are spending enormous sums of money or wielding enormous amounts of influence in an attempt to intimidate the House into passing a plan similar to that adopted by the Senate."
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