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Obama’s Immigration Push to Test Limits of Bipartisan Framework

President Obama points to the crowd after delivering remarks on immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Jan. 29. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

In his call for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration system on Tuesday, President Obama was at once signaling the importance of the issue to his second term agenda and testing how much pressure the bipartisan framework being developed in the Senate could withstand.

The president called the blueprint unveiled Monday by the so-called Gang of Eight “very encouraging” and said it was “very much in line with the principles” he had previously proposed and campaigned on in recent years.

But Mr. Obama, a veteran of the 2006 and 2007 immigration pushes in Congress that ultimately collapsed under Republican opposition, said this time “action must follow” or he, as president, would intervene.

“We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time,” the president told the crowd gathered at a campaign-style event at a Las Vegas high school. “And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

The bipartisan Senate plan would create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country, but only after certain security measures are implemented.

The president suggested Tuesday that the citizenship process should not be tied to other provisions. “For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” he said.

Mr. Obama laid out a process that included background checks, paying taxes and a fine, learning English, and getting in line behind immigrants who are trying to come to the country legally. “That means it won’t be a quick process but it will be a fair process,” the president said.

One of the Republican members of the bipartisan Senate group, Florida’s Marco Rubio, defended the decision to link the citizenship process to to border security standards.

“Without such triggers in place, enforcement systems will never be implemented and we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of new undocumented people in our country,” Rubio said in a statement released Tuesday.

Another warning came from the office of House Speaker John Boehner. “There are a lot of ideas about how to best fix our broken immigration system,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. “Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the President is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate.”

The first hearing on immigration reform in the House will be held Tuesday.

For the president, there is no hiding the significance of making immigration reform the focus of the first trip of his second term, a point underscored by the involvement in the push by his campaign infrastructure.

Jim Messina, who ran the Obama re-election effort, dropped a note to the president’s political email list urging backers to get involved.

“Working together, we can fix our immigration system so everyone plays by the same rules,” he wrote, outlining four “steps” in the president’s proposal:

  • Continue to strengthen and secure our borders;
  • Crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers;
  • Establish a legal path to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here — including children who were brought here through no fault of their own;
  • And streamline legal immigration for those who are already playing by the rules.

Messina called the bipartisan Senate plan “an encouraging sign” for working together, and consistent with what Mr. Obama wants.

“It won’t be easy, and our success is in no way guaranteed,” he wrote. “But if we stick together, and keep at it, we can accomplish something truly historic.”

Going forward, the question becomes how much of his vision the president is willing to forego in order to allow the fragile bipartisan coalition in the Senate to move forward.

The NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff detailed the plan Tuesday night. Gwen Ifill followed that report with a debate between two players in the debate with wildly different views on the issue: Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who helped craft Arizona’s strict immigration measure and Clarissa Martinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza.

Martinez de Castro was optimistic:

One of the reasons why we are moving forward with it is because indeed so much ground has been laid before in previous debates. And I think what we have right now is the political imperative, the moral imperative, and the economic imperative aligning to create the pressure and the space that Congress needs to take action.

Kobach said he thinks the fiscal costs of what he dubs “amnesty” would ultimately torpedo any plan, saying they would be much higher than the $2.7 trillion a Congressional Budget Office score said a pathway to citizenship would cost in 2007.

“So I think once the numbers start coming out on the proposal and once it’s actually laid out in terms of bill language, you’re going to see a lot of members of both parties stepping back and saying, oh, I didn’t realize it would cause that problem,” he said.

Watch the segment here or below:

Christina solicited two takes on the issue in our newsroom, talking with NDN’s Simon Rosenberg on the left and Hispanic Leadership Network’s Jennifer Korn on the right. Both are veterans of the 2006 and 2007 efforts to pass a comprehensive plan. She noted that George W. Bush wrote in his memoir not passing immigration reform was one of his top regrets, and asked them to assess the president’s push.

You can watch that here.

Watch the president’s Las Vegas speech in full here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will appear at the Wednesday morning Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about gun violence. Her husband is testifying. The two have formed a gun control-focused political action committee. The NewsHour will have extensive coverage of the day on the show Wednesday night.
  • Politico reported that Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz had wanted to bring guns to the hearing but ran into trouble with local law enforcement.
  • Sen. John Kerry was confirmed to be Secretary of State on a vote of 94 to 3. Dissenters were Republicans Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. Kerry, who voted “present,” gives his farewell speech Wednesday.
  • And as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick prepares to name an interim Senator, special election candidate Rep. Ed Markey will face a primary against Rep. Stephen Lynch, the Boston Globe reports.
  • The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery details the forthcoming deep sequestration cuts and how the government is bracing for impact.
  • Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood is leaving the administration and the Los Angeles Times reports Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could be his successor.
  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found the president is viewed favorably by 60 percent of Americans, his highest approval rating since he first came to office.
  • “Federal prosecutors for the first time on Tuesday acknowledged that outside military or intelligence agencies can censor closed-circuit broadcasts of hearings by the 9/11 military tribunal,” The Hill reports from Guantanamo Bay.
  • Kirsten Powers writes for Fox News that the president’s comments about the network to The New Republic are in a “long line” of a “campaign to silence any dissent they detect in the press corps.”
  • Roll Call’s Amanda Becker reports the Office of Congressional Ethics opened 32 cases during the last session of Congress.
  • Ohio won’t change its winner-take-all Electoral College system, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
  • The Federal Election Commission boosted the donation maximum for an individual from $2,500 to $2,600 for the next election cycle.
  • Conservatives in Texas say Cornyn should expect a primary, Roll Call’s Humberto Sanchez reports.
  • And Roll Call’s David Drucker looks at the role that Cruz, Cornyn’s fellow Texan, will play at the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and if that could mean involvement in primaries.
  • Just 31 percent of Texas voters think Gov. Rick Perry should seek another term in 2014, a new Public Policy Polling survey found.
  • Michael Bloomberg compliments Vice President Biden, or something.
  • The Associated Press reports: The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is planning its first major expansion since it opened in 1971 as a “living memorial” to President John F. Kennedy, with new features including pavilions to house rehearsal halls and classrooms, a memorial garden and a floating stage on the Potomac River.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA focuses on guns and mental illness, and found that over 11 years only 1.7 percent of gun purchasers were denied after a federal background check.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The Foreign Affairs team crafted a detailed report ahead of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings, noting that he is likely to face questions about the Pentagon’s looming budget crisis. Automatic spending cuts set to take effect March first mean the Defense Department may have to find $52 billion in savings this year and half-a-trillion dollars over the next decade. Watch that here. And Judy talked with the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg about the political ads targeting Hagel.
  • The amazing story of an Iraq War veteran who received a double arm transplant.

TOP TWEETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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