Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said they are encouraged that President Barack Obama understands their insistence that better border security precede a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“Senator McCain made a strong point about the border, and the president understands the working components of it,” Graham told reporters today after the senators met with Obama at the White House.
“I was, quite frankly, encouraged,” said Graham of South Carolina. “I think we will have presidential leadership in a very productive way on immigration reform, and, with that, we’ve got a very good chance of doing it this year.”
Obama has called on Congress to pass immigration changes to boost border security and create a citizenship path for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Republican resistance to such a proposal has lessened since the November election, in which Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote.
McCain told reporters the meeting made him “more confident” that Obama understood Republicans’ emphasis on stronger border security. Still, McCain and Graham wouldn’t say whether they think Obama would sign a bill that tied citizenship to border security.
“I believe that the president is very committed to comprehensive immigration reform,” said McCain of Arizona. “Does that mean he’s committed to anything we do? No, he has his positions on the issue as well, but I believe he is sincerely desirous of comprehensive immigration reform.”
The lawmakers, along with Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are part of a bipartisan group of eight senators working to craft a revision of immigration policy.
Graham said before the meeting that he was “a little bit” surprised that Rubio and Flake weren’t included.“But I don’t make the invitations,” he added.
Rubio earlier this month criticized the president after USA Today reported that the White House was drafting its version of immigration legislation. Administration officials characterized it as a backup plan.
A potential 2016 presidential candidate, Rubio gave the Republican response to Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
For McCain and Graham, it was their first meeting with Obama since the Senate group began working on its plan. The group is seeking to turn principles it released last month into legislation.
“I am confident that we will complete it in a reasonable time frame,” McCain said today. He declined to offer details.
Obama met Feb. 13 with the Senate group’s four Democratic members: Charles Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Schumer, in an interview today, said the bipartisan group’s negotiations were “going good” and “moving along” and predicted the group will offer legislation in March. He said the group was “making progress” on Republicans’ demand that a path to citizenship come only after a measurable increase in border security.
A top Rubio aide told a group of Latino elected officials at a private briefing today that the senator welcomes the meeting as a positive sign that Obama is committed to a bipartisan approach to rewriting immigration law, according to two people who attended the event.
Enrique Gonzalez III, who Rubio brought on board to work on the immigration efforts, said it is almost impossible to sink the effort, the people said. The comments were made at a luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
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