By Molly K. Hooper - 06/13/09 10:59 PM EDT
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) accused the White House on Saturday of playing politics with immigration reform, after President Obama delayed meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the topic this upcoming week.
The longtime anti-illegal-immigration lawmaker questioned the administration’s motives in setting up a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on comprehensive reform only to exclude key GOP members, on both sides of the dome, from the session that White House officials announced last Friday had to be rescheduled for the second time.
As of Saturday night, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Immigration subcommittee ranking member Steve King (R-Iowa) had not been formally invited, according to their staff.
White House aides told The Hill that the meeting was rescheduled due to to scheduling conflicts and that the invites had not gone out yet.
They would not divulge whom the president intended to ask to participate in the intimate meeting where members on "both sides of the aisle (and) both sides of the issue, (will) have an honest discussion of the issues, identify areas of agreement and areas where we still have work to do," an aide to the president said.
According to earlier press reports, though, several Democratic members planned on attending the meeting including Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Rep. Xavier Beccera (Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (Mich.).
It was unclear, however, if Obama would invite his former 2008 GOP presidential rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain, a longtime proponent of guest-worker programs and granting amnesty to illegal aliens, joined forces with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former President George W. Bush to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, but their efforts were stymied by conservative interest groups opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
For his part, Bilbray does not anticipate an invitation to the meeting he said has been orchestrated by the White House for the sole purpose of placating the country’s pro-immigrant-rights groups.
But those groups were far from appeased on Saturday when they decried the White House for postponing the meeting.
Earlier in the year, President Obama promised to make overhauling the immigration system a top priority.
But Bilbray says that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, largely credited with Democrats regaining control of Congress, knows that it would be political suicide for vulnerable House Democrats to vote on the hot-button issue before the mid-term elections.
“Rahm is a very politically sharp Chicago politician, and he sees that this is an issue that could hurt his majority severely enough in the moderate districts. And he’s smart enough to know that even though he’s getting pressure by the open-borders crowd to do something now, he’s trying to hold it off until after the next cycle,” Bilbray said.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a close friend of Bilbray’s despite their opposing positions on the issue, pledged to make comprehensive immigration reform happen before the end of the 111th Congress.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have three major issues we have to do this year, if at all possible: No. 1 is healthcare; No 2 is energy, global warming; No. 3 is immigration reform,” Reid said on June 4.