The efforts underscore the perilous path ahead for a comprehensive immigration deal, which is one of Obama’s top agenda items for his second term but faces mounting criticism from those on both the left and right.
In a private meeting with a dozen Latino leaders at the White House this week, Obama emphasized that securing a large margin in the Senate is crucial to putting pressure on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to accept the general framework of the legislation.
The president made clear that he expected the people in the room to support the Senate proposal even if they had doubts about some details, participants said. Once an overarching plan was locked in place by Congress, Obama told the group, the administration would be able to revisit some of their concerns and figure out ways to improve it.
“He said, ‘If the bill were presented on my desk today, I would sign it,’ ” said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, who attended the meeting. “He looked at the advocates and said, ‘We’re not going to get everything we want in this.’ ”
Obama’s strategy represents a calculated bet that throwing his full support behind a bipartisan proposal crafted by four Democrats and four Republicans is the surest way to avoid the pitfalls that have doomed his initiatives on gun control and the budget. As the White House prepares to confront fierce opposition from conservatives, the administration’s ability to galvanize support among liberals represents a tricky, but particularly critical, task.
It won’t be easy. This week, a coalition of Latino and religious leaders held a conference call with reporters highlighting portions of the bill they believe to be too draconian — including high fees and rigorous employment requirements before undocumented workers can gain legal status.
Meanwhile, gay rights advocates said they expect Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to introduce an amendment that would provide visas to foreign same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens, a provision that Republicans have said could kill a deal.
At a news conference this week, Obama praised the Senate group for its bipartisan work. He said there were elements of the bill that he does not agree with but emphasized that he supports the overall package: “I do think that it meets the basic criteria that I laid out from the start.”
In private meetings, Obama has told liberal groups that they must be realistic at a time when Republicans control half of Congress.