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President Selling Immigration Bill at Home and Abroad


Photo of U.S. capitol by Larisa Epatko/PBS NewsHour.

The Morning Line

The burgeoning debate over immigration reform is expected to consume lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the coming months. But for the moment, at least, the issue does not appear to have grabbed the attention of much of the American public.

According to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, just 19 percent of respondents said they are closely following developments.

If that is the case, much of the public has not formed an opinion yet about the legislation introduced last month by a bipartisan group of eight senators that would increase funding for border security enhancements and provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people currently in the country.

The Pew survey found that 38 percent of Americans said they don’t know what they think about the bill. Among those who had reached a conclusion, 33 percent said they favor the measure compared with 28 percent who said they oppose it.

The poll’s findings present an opportunity for supporters and opponents of the legislation, with so much of the public seemingly up for grabs. Swaying those undecideds will likely be key in ramping up pressure on lawmakers when it comes time to act on the legislation.

Most Americans also are unaware of key provisions included in the package. About four-in-10 (37 percent) knew that the legislation was authored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, while less than half (46 percent) of respondents knew the measure allowed undocumented people to remain in the country while applying for legal status.

Democrats, by a two-to-one margin, support the bill, while Republicans are more evenly split on the overhaul.

The Washington Post’s David Nakamura reports Thursday that the president is urging liberal supporters to back the bipartisan proposal in the Senate despite reservations some might have that the bill does not go far enough.

The efforts underscore the perilous path ahead for a comprehensive immigration deal, which is one of Obama’s top agenda items for his second term but faces mounting criticism from those on both the left and right.

In a private meeting with a dozen Latino leaders at the White House this week, Obama emphasized that securing a large margin in the Senate is crucial to putting pressure on House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to accept the general framework of the legislation.

The president made clear that he expected the people in the room to support the Senate proposal even if they had doubts about some details, participants said. Once an overarching plan was locked in place by Congress, Obama told the group, the administration would be able to revisit some of their concerns and figure out ways to improve it.

Even if the president is able to keep his liberal allies on board with the Senate plan it still might not be able to overcome objections in the Republican-controlled House. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the members of the Gang of Eight, said Tuesday that the legislation as it’s currently written would have to be adjusted.

“The bill that’s in place right now probably can’t pass the House,” Rubio said.

The Pew poll comes as President Barack Obama prepares to head south for a quick trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, with immigration reform at the top of his agenda.

The Associated Press’ Jim Kuhnhenn previews the visit, noting that White House officials say Mexico’s economy is a critical element of a successful immigration reform measure:

“With Mexico, first and foremost, they are critical to our ability to secure the border,” said Ben Rhodes, an Obama deputy national security adviser. “All the immigration plans that have been contemplated put a focus on securing the border as an essential priority and starting point for immigration reform.”

Even better than a strong border is an economy that keeps people from fleeing. “If the Mexican economy is growing, it forestalls the need for people to migrate to the United States to find work,” Rhodes added.

Eager to focus on the economy and immigration, the administration is downplaying Pena Nieto’s recent steps to end the broad access Mexico gave U.S. security agencies to help fight drug trafficking and organized crime under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. Still, the changes are likely to be a subject during the two leaders’ private talks. Obama said this week he wouldn’t judge the new moves until he heard directly from Mexican officials.

Thursday Mr. Obama will meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Friday he huddles with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. Mr. Obama will speak at the Central America Forum on Sustainable Economic Development Saturday.

The NewsHour will examine the bigger picture of the visit Thursday. Watch here.

LINE ITEMS

  • Mr. Obama Thursday will officially nominate Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker to lead the Department of Commerce at a morning Rose Garden ceremony. The Hyatt hotel board member was one of his most prolific fundraisers. He also will name economic adviser Mike Froman to be the next U.S. Trade Representative.
  • The Obama administration appealed a federal court’s decision to allow the morning-after pill for girls of any age.
  • A new CBS News/New York Times poll found 59 percent of Americans unhappy with the Senate’s failure to pass an amendment expanding background checks for gun purchases.
  • The president’s appointment of Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C. to lead a housing agency, will open up a crowded race in North Carolina’s 12th Congressional district. You have to see how gerrymandered this district is to believe it.
  • Bloomberg reporter (and birthday girl) Julianna Goldman writes that the first sequester-related furloughs are kicking in among White House staffers.
  • The Hill’s Jonathan Easley on a clash between the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee “over a new RNC ad that the DNC says cruelly exploits the Newtown shootings.”
  • Politico’s Jake Sherman gets Republicans to talk about an “unprecedented level of frustration” within the House GOP Conference.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, used his Facebook page Tuesday to respond to a National Review story that he is considering a 2016 presidential bid. Cruz referred to such talk as “wild speculation,” but did not deny the report.
  • Stu Rothenberg warns against writing off the Massachusetts Senate race.
  • Mother Jones crafted this handy state-by-state guide to sequestration cuts.
  • Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Tuesday he’s “embarrassed” that he hasn’t made a decision yet about running for the Hawkeye State’s Senate seat in 2014, according to Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register.
  • In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe’s first TV ad will begin airing Thursday. The biographical spot echoes the softer tone Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli deployed in his first ad last week.
  • Buzzfeed digs up the juiciest tidbits from McAuliffe’s 2007 book.
  • Rhode Island Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee is preparing to sign the Marriage Equality Act Thursday, writing in the New York Times, “marriage equality is an issue where doing the right thing and the smart thing are one and the same.”
  • Larry Flynt endorsed former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford ahead of Tuesday’s 1st Congressional district race.
  • Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel has launched an attack against rival Eric Garcetti for receiving the endorsement of Republican Kevin James, who was eliminated in the March primary. In response, James released text messages sent to him by Greuel that show the Democrat actively sought his backing.
  • Three Los Angeles council members want the city to formally oppose any attempt by billionaire conservative activists Charles and David Koch to buy Tribune company newspapers, including the L.A. Times. A large group of the paper’s staffers said they’d quit, too, if the deal happened.
  • Add the National Archives and Records Administration to the list of places hit by sequestration.
  • James Ponsoldt will direct Rodham.
  • Vogue Magazine empress Anna Wintour seems to be back on the shortlist for U.S. Ambassador to Paris, says the Washington Post.
  • The Washington Times profiles the National Rifle Association’s next president, Alabama attorney Jim Porter.
  • The Washington Post puts the gruesome details up top: Members of the early 17th century Jamestown colony resorted to cannibalism.
  • The site MuckRock is seeking volunteers to help combat potential open records difficulties because of a Supreme Court decision on Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The court’s ruling allows the commonwealth — and others — to fill only in-state residents’ requests for documents.
  • All the HRC .gifs you’ll ever need, courtesy Dorsey Shaw.
  • Rafalca Romney won a dressage competition in California.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • In Judy’s Notebook, Judy Woodruff writes that Mr. Obama is not the first president to be accused of sour relations with Congress, but the strong localized loyalties fueled by increasingly gerrymandered congressional districts leave little political incentive for House Republicans to cooperate with him.
  • Simone Pathe examines the respective business ties plaguing Cuccinelli and McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race.
  • Drawing on his recent trip to Pakistan, Dan Sagalyn reports on how perceptions of danger hamper Pakistani textile businesses.
  • Previewing the HBO film “Manhunt,” about the CIA “sisterhood” behind the search for Osama bin Laden, Margaret Warner spoke with Cindy Storer and Nada Bakos, CIA analysts who appear in the film. Margaret writes more about Storer and Bakos here, contrasting the spotlight shone on their “unsexy work” with Hollywood’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”

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Katelyn Polantz and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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

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