Obama courts key Republicans on immigration reform

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 20 2013 08:03 AM | Updated as of Feb 20 2013 04:03 PM

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called key Senate Republicans, with whom he is at odds on other many top issues, to discuss the prospects for bipartisan immigration reform.

Obama placed the calls following complaints he had not done enough to reach across the political aisle on the key issue, and after the leak of partial White House immigration plans angered Republican players in the debate.

The White House said that Obama had spoken to Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio, to discuss a "shared commitment to bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform."

"The President reiterated that he remains supportive of the effort underway in Congress, and that he hopes that they can produce a bill as soon as possible that reflects shared core principles on reform."

"He thanked the senators for their leadership, and made clear that he and his staff look forward to continuing to work together with their teams to achieve needed reform."

Obama's aides said he also wanted to speak to Republican Senator Jeff Flake, of Arizona, but was unable to reach him because he was traveling.

Cuban-American Rubio, a rising star of the Republican Party, is emerging as a key player in the immigration debate, and he warned that leaked versions of White House plans obtained by USA Today would be "dead on arrival."

Eight senators -- four of Obama's Democratic allies and four Republicans -- unveiled a joint plan last month aiming to provide a route to legal status for illegal immigrants living on US soil.

Under the White House fallback plan, illegal immigrants would have to wait eight years until applying for legal permanent residency, and, in practice, at least 13 years before they could apply for US citizenship.

Advocates of immigration reform say that time period is too long -- while conservative opponents still rail against "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, reflecting the toxicity of much of the immigration reform debate.

Obama had been sharply at odds with Graham and McCain for their role in delaying the confirmation of his pick for defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

His call to Rubio, who is traveling in the Middle East, came after the Florida senator's office had said that no one in his office had met White House officials to discuss immigration.

The White House had maintained that its staffers had met congressional officials working on immigration reform.

Obama's move may be seen as an effort to prevent partisan wrangling from derailing hopes of immigration reform, as it did under the presidency of his predecessor George W. Bush.

Immigration reform may be Obama's best chance for a genuine legacy-boosting success in his second term.

Senior Republicans, meanwhile, are wary of entering another election hampered by the mistrust of Hispanic voters, a growing slice of the electorate for whom immigration reform is a key issue.

A key sticking point in the debate is the Republican demand that the process of offering legal status to illegals should only start once the US southern border with Mexico has been certified as secure.

Obama has so far declined to make that linkage.

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