WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is using his presidential pulpit to press the Republican-controlled House to embrace a path to citizenship for all 11 million people living illegally in the United States, while a top Republican says only those brought to America as children should be given the highest priority.
With prospects shaky for passing an immigration overhaul in the House, the White House insisted yesterday that to garner Obama's signature, any bill must satisfy the president's principles, the path to citizenship chief among them. But Obama is leaving the particulars of how Congress gets there up to lawmakers, wary of strong-arming the process and handing Republicans an excuse to vote no.
"I cannot even begin to count the number of possibilities that could emerge through the House process. So I'm not going to," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "What I'm saying is that the end result has to meet the president's principles if he's going to sign it into law." He said Obama would voice those principles and the benefits of fixing immigration today in interviews with Spanish-language TV stations.
If the White House had its way, the House would simply and swiftly take up a sweeping Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support. But House Speaker John Boehner has already rejected that notion, preferring to tackle the nation's immigration laws in "bite-sized chunks."
Boehner's approach reflects the intense skepticism of the GOP rank-and-file, who say they don't trust Obama will fulfill the border-security requirements in the Senate-passed bill. Although Republicans generally acknowledge they must broaden their appeal to Hispanic voters whose influence in elections is rapidly growing, many say they fear primary challenges from the right if they support a new path to citizenship.
One exception that appeared to be gaining traction among Republicans is to offer a citizenship path only to those brought here as children. Allowing only those individuals to obtain citizenship could shield Republicans from attacks by conservatives that they're giving a free pass to those who voluntarily broke the law.
"I think that group of people -- some call DREAMers -- is a group that deserves perhaps the highest priority attention," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said at an immigration-related conference in California. "They know no other country."