WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner said he's sticking to his plan to take up piecemeal changes to the immigration system while shunning a comprehensive measure passed by the Senate.
"Moving through this in a methodical, step-by-step approach allows members to read the bills, understand the bills" and helps build public support, Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters yesterday following Wednesday's two-hour private meeting of party members to discuss immigration.
"Securing our borders and having the ability to enforce our immigration laws are the first big steps in this process," Boehner said. He wouldn't say whether he thought the House could pass legislation including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which many Republicans oppose. Democrats insist on such a provision.
Immigration legislation is President Barack Obama's highest domestic priority thus far in his second term, after he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November. Republicans, in turn, want to boost their party's appeal with Hispanics after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney promoted self-deportation as the answer to illegal immigration.
Obama met yesterday at the White House with two authors of the bipartisan Senate bill, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Afterward, both senators said they were encouraged following the House Republican meeting.
"A large percentage of the House realized that doing nothing was not an option," Schumer said. "Immigration has a strong future this year in Washington."
McCain said the senators' message to "colleagues in the House is, 'We are ready to negotiate.' " House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said immigration overhaul must be enacted this year because "it's unlikely that it's going to happen in an election year."
Boehner said Thursday that he "made the strong case" to fellow Republicans that the immigration system "needs to be fixed and Republicans ought to be part of the solution." "My job is to do everything I can to facilitate a process for solving this problem," the speaker said.
Boehner and other House Republican leaders said in a joint statement following Wednesday's meeting that they don't trust Obama's administration to secure the border as part of a broad immigration plan.
The Democratic-led Senate's immigration bill combines a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States with a $46 billion border-security plan.