Obama tells lawmakers immigration a priority
WASHINGTON - Launching a fresh effort toward a sweeping US immigration overhaul, President Obama said yesterday that a bipartisan bill on the sensitive and volatile political issue will be difficult but must get underway this year.
“It’s going to require some heavy lifting,’’ Obama said as he gathered about 30 lawmakers from both parties and across the ideological spectrum on immigration at a White House meeting. “It’s going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policy making over short-term politics. That’s what I’m committed to doing as president.’’
Comprehensive immigration reform was a personal priority for Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who was so confident of its chances that he once told reporters, “I’ll see you at the bill signing.’’ But the bill collapsed in the Senate in 2007, mostly under the weight of criticism from conservatives who saw it as an amnesty bill that was publicly unpopular and politically untenable.
Much of the debate centered on the roughly 12 million illegals already living in the United States.
Lawmakers from both parties said after the meeting with Obama that this year is the last chance to try again for decades.
“We’ve got one more chance to do this,’’ said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “If we fail this time around, no politician is going to take this up in a generation.’’
The president telephoned wavering Democrats on the eve of what could be a landmark vote in the US House of Representatives.
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, Obama said Washington must not miss the opportunity to work on cleaning the air, creating new “green’’ energy jobs, and moving the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas.
The White House appeared concerned that momentum for the bill was slipping, although White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that when it came time for a House showdown, “I’d bet on the president.’’
House Republicans for weeks have maintained a drumbeat against the legislation, calling it a massive energy tax on every American and a “job killer’’ because it will force higher prices on electricity, gasoline, and other energy sources as the economy shifts from cheaper fossil fuels.
Obama sought to counter that argument.
“This is going to be a close vote because of misinformation out there that there’s somehow a contradiction between clean energy and economic growth,’’ Obama said. Rather than emphasizing any impact on global warming, he called the legislation “a jobs bill’’ that will lead to the creation of new industries and “finally make clean energy a profitable kind of energy.’’
The White House turned the annual picnic for members of Congress and their families into a Hawaiian luau, in celebration of the president’s home state. Tents were set up, tiki torches lined the perimeter, and potted palm trees were brought in.
“I hope everybody’s got their Hawaiian shirts and their muumuus for our luau tonight,’’ Obama told lawmakers gathered at the White House yesterday for a meeting on immigration.
On the menu are traditional luau foods such as kalua pig and lomi lomi salmon prepared by famed Hawaii chef Alan Wong.