Biden: Congress 'must' pass immigration reform this summer

Vice President Biden said Wednesday that Congress "must" pass a comprehensive immigration reform package before the end of summer.

“As my grandpop would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, Congress will show the wisdom to pass the bipartisan immigration bill by the end of the summer, and I’m optimistic,” Biden said, according to ABC News radio. "They must."

The vice president was addressing the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies' gala, and said an immigration reform package was as essential to their community — and all Americans — as any other.

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“What are we about as a country? We are all about possibilities. That to me is the defining feature of America. It's about possibilities. The same possibilities that brought my family and your families here in the first place but that means not only dealing with the millions of people who are undocumented in this country, including 1.2 million Asians, it means fixing and modernizing our legal immigration system,” he said.

Biden's comments come as the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday begins a markup of the Gang of Eight's bipartisan immigration reform bill. On the House side, lawmakers are also crafting an immigration bill and have suggested they will unveil their efforts soon.

Biden has focused his efforts on a push for immigration reform in recent days. Earlier this week, he told religious leaders at the White House that efforts to pass gun control would have to wait until immigration reform gets done.

"The conversation presumed the vote would happen first on immigration," Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told The Associated Press. "That seemed to be the back-and-forth on both sides — that immigration was a key priority right now. When that vote took place, it would be an opportunity to refocus on this."

Biden also devoted a substantial part of his remarks Wednesday night to pay tribute to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a personal friend from their time serving in the Senate together. Inouye, who was the president pro tempore of the Senate at the time of his death, passed away in December.

“The incredible thing about Danny was he came through his experiences more empathetic, more committed, more determined to help people," Biden said. "Everybody in America now knows the physical courage of Danny is legendary but I’ve got to tell you, the more impressive thing to me, if that’s possible, is his moral courage.  Danny had a more fulsome embrace of life with one arm than any man or woman I’ve ever met with two arms.”

"As Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, you fought not only for equal treatment for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The work Danny and so many of his generations did among all of you paved the way for everyone, but you know the job's still not over,” he said.

The vice president was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who, in an allusion to Biden's memorable line on the night that President Obama's signature healthcare bill passed, called his presence at the gala "a big flippin' deal."