White House 'encouraged' by Senate progress on immigration

White House 'encouraged' by Senate progress on immigration

The White House said Monday it was "encouraged" by progress on bipartisan immigration reform in the Senate, but cautioned that lawmakers were "not there yet" on an agreement.

"We are encouraged by the continuing signs of progress that we are seeing in the Senate as the Group of Eight and the Senate more broadly works on comprehensive immigration reform," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. 

He added that the administration was also pleased by reports of a deal between the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce, which cleared one of the last hurdles blocking a bipartisan accord on immigration reform.

Over the weekend, labor and business leaders ironed out a disagreement over a new low-skilled worker visa to be included in the immigration-reform package. Under the plan, the number of visas would fluctuate between 20,000 and 200,000 and guest workers would be paid the prevailing wage in the area where they work.

But despite the agreement, some Republicans — including Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSunday shows preview: Trump stares down 100-day mark Treasury won’t grant Exxon drilling waiver for Russia Report: Trump privately met with former Colombian presidents in Florida MORE (R-Fla.), who is critical to rallying conservative support for any bill — cautioned that a deal was not done. In a statement on Sunday, Rubio called reports of an agreement "premature."

Carney warned that "we're not there yet" on a deal that could pass both chambers of Congress.

"It certainly is a fact that legislation hasn't been completed, so the process continues, but is not finished," Carney said, adding that the White House was not "celebrating prematurely."

Still, the press secretary pointed to optimistic remarks over the weekend by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRussian interference looms over European elections Graham: I’m ‘all in’ for Trump Graham: US on a collision course with North Korea MORE (R-S.C.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeTrump wall faces skepticism on border No Congress members along Mexico border support funding Trump's wall Obama-linked group launches ads targeting Republicans on immigration MORE (R-Ariz.) and Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSo what if banks push fancy cards? Give consumers the steak they want Ted Cruz: Warren could beat Trump in 2020 Dem lawmakers use Tax Day to call for release of Trump's returns MORE (D-N.Y.), members of the bipartisan Senate immigration group.

"I would just point you to the statements by a number of the members of the Group Of Eight about the progress they're making, about how close they are to an agreement," Carney said.

On Sunday, Graham told CNN he believed "we've got a deal."

"There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted. It will be rolled out next week," Graham said.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said Monday that House Republicans will pose the only real obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Noting that the positive signs from the Gang of Eight, Israel said the fate of legislation will depend on whether House GOP leaders "want to cross their Tea Party extremist base" in support of a compromise.

"In the House, the Republicans are going to have to decide, 'Do they want to cross their base?' " Israel said in an interview on MSNBC.

"In the Senate, you're going to have Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives agree on something. The Chamber of Commerce and labor agree on something. Only House Republicans could stop it now."

At the White House, Carney said "as a matter of strategy" the president felt it was most prudent to allow legislators to strike a deal without trying to dictate terms.

"His interest is in getting this done, getting it done in a way that keeps true to his principles, principles that are reflected in the efforts underway in the Senate, but also, in the bipartisan efforts of the past," Carney said.

Carney also brushed aside questions on another sticking point: the length of the so-called "pathway to citizenship." Asked if President Obama would accept a plan that required the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants to wait 13 or 20 years before receiving citizenship, the press secretary said he did not want to comment on legislation that had not yet been drafted.

"There has to be an earned path to citizenship and it has to be real. It has to end in citizenship," Carney said.

Carney added the White House would continue to aid Senate negotiators and that the president would continue to advocate publicly for an immigration reform package.

"The president will continue to be out there, urging action on comprehensive immigration reform, making clear what his principles and priorities are," Carney said. "We will continue to work with legislators in the process of both drafting and then pushing for legislation."

—Mike Lillis contributed

Updated at 2:40 p.m.