McCain, Graham: Obama Committed to Immigration Reform

Sens. John McCain and Linsdey Graham huddled with the president.

ByABC News
February 26, 2013, 5:34 PM

Feb. 26, 2013— -- Republican senators struck an optimistic tone on Tuesday following a meeting with President Obama, expressing confidence he's committed to passing a comprehensive immigration reform.

The president sat down with John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), two of the four GOP senators who are part of a Senate working group drafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"We had an excellent meeting with the president and the vice president this afternoon during which we discussed a variety of issues, including our effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year," the senators said in a joint statement. "We were pleased to hear the president state his firm commitment that he will do whatever is necessary to accomplish this important goal."

The Senate group released a list of immigration principles late last month and is aiming to complete comprehensive immigration reform legislation by March.

But some Republicans were rankled when an immigration bill being drafted by the White House leaked just over one week ago. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan Senate group, called the Obama bill "dead on arrival" since it lacked certain language contained in the Senate plan. One of the main sticking points was that it was missing a provision that would require federal immigration authorities to meet a "trigger" for border security before a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants could go forward.

And others in the GOP have voiced skepticism about Obama's sincerity about dealing across the aisle on immigration reform.

"I don't believe President Obama wants an immigration bill to pass, instead I think he wants a political issue," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is not a member of the working group, said last week. "His objective is to push so much on the table that he forces Republicans walk away from the table because then he wants to use that issue in 2014 and 2016 as a divisive wedge issue."

Obama last week reassured that his plan is only a backup in case talks in Congress stall, saying that he fully supports the negotiations among lawmakers. He later phoned Republican members of the Senate group to smooth over any tensions.

The president met with Democratic members of the Senate immigration group earlier this month, as well as with members of the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

McCain and Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill that Obama understands that there must be robust border-security requirements in any final immigration reform bill. While that may help a final bill pass through a divided Congress, some immigrant advocates voiced their displeasure over the talk of more border enforcement.

"While it is a positive development seeing the president and Republican leaders speak cordially on immigration, it is unfortunate that the trio have their priorities backwards. We hope they understand that the priority for Latinos is family reunification and not more border security," Dream Activist Coalition, an advoacy group, said in a statement. "We hope the president doesn't fall for this."