Obama presses 11 Republican senators to revive support for immigration reform

In his first major speech on immigration as president, President Barack Obama says that while the frustrations over it aren't new, Arizona's tough new anti-immigrant law and the protests surrounding it have created new tensions. (July 1)
By Michael W. Savage
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010

President Obama piled new pressure on Republicans on Thursday to support moves to fix an immigration system he said has become "broken and dangerous," but key GOP senators showed little sign of being ready to cooperate.

In his first presidential speech dedicated to the divisive issue, Obama made the case for comprehensive immigration reform that would see undocumented migrants given a pathway to citizenship and further measures put in place to secure the southwestern border.

But he also turned a spotlight on 11 Republican senators who had backed reform attempts in 2006, arguing that progress is being "held hostage" by "political posturing, special-interest wrangling and . . . the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics."

"I'm ready to move, the majority of Democrats are ready to move, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move," Obama said in the half-hour speech at American University. "But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem."

Some of the 11 senators whose support is critical to his plans signaled Thursday that they are not ready to back reform this time around. They also denied that they had changed their positions for political reasons.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), said the senator is interested in fixing the immigration system. But she added that he had made it clear he "does not support any initiative promoting comprehensive reform until the president and this administration get serious about controlling our borders."

Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), said the senator thinks it is simply the wrong moment for reform. "There really is not the political landscape to proceed with it at this time," he said.

Other minor legislation, designed to legalize those who came to the United States as children and then enrolled in U.S. colleges, "could potentially be doable this year," the spokesman said.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (Utah) also said further border enforcement had to come first. "The president needs to work with Congress on a step-by-step approach, focusing first on securing our borders and then establishing a temporary worker program," he said.

Other Republicans sympathetic to the cause now have other priorities. Sen. John McCain, a past supporter, faces a tough battle in his Arizona primary. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who had been working with Democrats on a draft reform bill earlier in the year, has now said that Congress should prioritize other issues such as Wall Street reform.

The president did not outline any details for reform or set a timetable for a reform bill, to the disappointment of those pushing him to fulfill his election pledge to take up the issue early in his first term.

Obama said that "years of patchwork fixes" had led to an immigration system that was creaking, adding that Arizona's new law clamping down on illegal immigration stemmed from the impasse in Congress. But he criticized the law, which gives officers more power to check the status of those suspected of entering the country illegally, as "ill-conceived."

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