WASHINGTON Architects of the Senate's immigration bill on Monday canceled a meeting that had been planned with business groups and other supporters to try to rally momentum for the legislation, in a sign of how difficult it will be to enact the reforms.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, Republican Senator John McCain and other members of the "Gang of Eight" that shepherded a sweeping immigration bill through the Senate want to enlist business, labor and religious groups to help persuade members of the House of Representatives to back reform.
All members of the bipartisan group of senators except Republican Marco Rubio held a meeting with business groups last Tuesday to talk about strategy in the Republican-dominated House, where immigration reform faces strong resistance, especially for the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants contained in the Senate bill.
But some of the business groups were uneasy with the strategy, which included trying to persuade more than 100 Republican House lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.
A follow-up meeting was to have been held this Thursday but the senators canceled it, citing scheduling issues.
Several business representatives who participated in the meeting said they were concerned that the Senate's involvement would not play well in the House. Republican members of the House have repeatedly rejected the Senate's bill and are working on smaller enforcement and work-visa bills that do not include a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Some of the business groups "were outraged," said one lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. "Even if what (the senators) said was right, they know how unpopular they are in the House," the lobbyist said.
Other lobbyists who attended the meeting also said they had concerns.
House Republicans are deeply divided over how to rewrite the country's immigration laws and have no clear strategy or timeline for passing legislation that could eventually be merged with the Senate bill.
Lobbyists said the majority of the groups that participated in Tuesday's meeting had already been working with the House Republicans they thought could be persuaded and felt that the Senate's involvement could backfire.
Not everyone was comfortable with the Senate's approach and as a result some of the groups were not planning to attend the second meeting scheduled for Thursday because they did not think it would be useful, participants said.
A Democratic congressional aide said the meeting was canceled because of scheduling problems and that the senators would continue to work closely with immigration reform groups.
But even before the meeting was canceled, some participants said they did not plan to attend the second meeting because of concerns about the strategy.
Underscoring the difficult politics of the issue in the House, Republican Speaker John Boehner, in an interview with the CBS program "Face the Nation" on Sunday, refused to say whether he thought a bill should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Boehner said taking a personal stand on the issue would make it harder for him to find consensus on immigration in the House.
"If I come out and say, 'I'm for this and I'm for that,' all I'm doing is making my job harder," Boehner said. "My job in this process is to facilitate a discussion and to facilitate a process."
(Reporting by Rachelle Younglai and Caren Bohan; Editing by Eric Beech)