WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fresh from a bruising fight with House of Representatives Republicans over the budget, U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday urged them to work with him to overhaul the country’s immigration laws.
“Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done, and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion,” Obama said at a White House event that was part of a renewed push he is making on one of his top domestic priorities.
But immigration reform remains stalled in the Republican-led House and, if anything, the budget fight that caused a 16-day shutdown of the federal government could add to the struggles facing immigration reform.
In one sign of the hurdles, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the House would not consider any “massive, Obamacare-style legislation,” though the spokesman left open the possibility of tackling immigration reform through smaller, piecemeal bills.
The comment hinted at the antipathy many Republicans feel toward any initiative associated with Obama’s agenda. That antipathy has grown after a budget struggle in which Republicans sought to weaken the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare.”
“It’s too early to tell, the shutdown battle was too bruising and the dust has to settle; passions and tempers have to decrease,” said Republican strategist Ana Navarro, noting that many House Republicans, including leadership, support immigration reform.
Still, in the shutdown’s aftermath, Boehner and other Republicans have focused almost exclusively on problems in Obamacare’s rollout and have said little on immigration reform.
Boehner told reporters this week he was “hopeful” immigration reform might be addressed this year but gave no specifics.
The Senate in June passed a sweeping measure that would strengthen border security, require employers to verify workers’ legal status and create a provisional status for workers as part of a 13-year path to citizenship.
House Democrats have introduced a nearly identical bill but it stands almost no chance of passing the Republican-led House.
One avenue for moving forward on immigration reform in the House could be to use a series of separate bills on border security and related issues that could be packaged together and form the basis for a compromise with the Senate.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia is leading that effort. His panel passed four Republican-backed bills over the summer but there has been little recent activity on the issue in the Judiciary Committee.
Goodlatte and the House’s second-ranking Republican, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, are working on a measure to help those brought illegally into the country as children.
But there is no date set for introducing such a measure and a chief sponsor has yet to be determined, according to a House aide close to the situation.
California Republican Darrell Issa is also drafting a measure that could be released as early as next week.
A draft of a broad immigration bill developed by a bipartisan group of House members offers another alternative. But the bipartisan group, whose members include Democrat Luis Guitierrez of Illinois and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, has yet to release its proposal and members still describe it as tentative.
The eight-member bipartisan group now consists of only five lawmakers after three Republicans walked away from the talks.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organized labor, religious leaders, law enforcement officials and agricultural groups are among the powerful interests pushing Congress to act on immigration.
“Obviously, just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done,” Obama said to laughter from immigration reform supporters who attended his speech at the White House,
Liberal groups are trying to turn up the heat on Republican lawmakers whose districts include large immigrant populations. Those lawmakers are seen as potentially vulnerable on the immigration issue in the 2014 congressional races.
Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry outlined to Reuters a coordinated campaign to target 30 to 35 Republican incumbents in key districts.
If progress is not made soon, many liberal groups may turn their attention toward trying to elect lawmakers who support immigration reform.
If the House does not act, “we’ve made plans to move into mobilization drives in the districts that are vulnerable. We’re ready to pivot to the ballot box if we have to,” said AFL-CIO immigration campaign director Tom Snyder.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Cynthia Osterman