By Justin Sink - 06/11/13 03:40 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday threw his weight behind the Senate immigration reform bill and warned opponents not to use “procedural games” to stop it.
The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on a motion to proceed to the immigration bill, opening up the 1,000-page law for a lengthy process of debates and amendments that could last until July.
Appearing at the White House with labor, business, law enforcement and political leaders, Obama said there was "no reason Congress can't get this done by the end of summer."
"The system is still broken and to truly deal with this issue, Congress needs to act, and that moment is now.”
Obama defended the drafting of the Senate bill as “open and inclusive” and said the bill represented a genuine compromise from everyone involved.
"It's the only way we can make sure that everyone who is here is playing by the same rules as ordinary families," Obama said.
The president said opponents of immigration reform would try to "gin up fear" in the coming weeks, and decried "extreme" moves such as the House's vote last week to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
That program was launched last year by the Department of Homeland Security after the White House announced it would exercise prosecutorial discretion and offer a temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings for people brought to the United States illegally as children.
The president said even those who "don't see eye to eye on just about any issue" should recognize that the current system is "broken."
"Right now, our immigration system has no credible way of dealing with the 11 million men and women who are in this country illegally," Obama said.
Attendees at the White House event included San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, and Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Earlier Tuesday, the labor unions said they plan to begin rallying support for the immigration reform bill. The SEIU plans a million-dollar cable television ad buy, while the AFL-CIO will run targeted online advertisements in key states and fly supporters to Washington to lobby lawmakers directly.
Conservative groups, including Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, have also announced their intention to spend money on advertising supporting the bill.
Tuesday's appearance was just the president's second public White House speech on immigration since the Gang of Eight work on the bill began in earnest. The White House has largely removed itself from the immigration debate, instead preferring to allow congressional negotiators to handle the drafting of the bill.
But the president has looked to build momentum in recent days, as signs emerged that the Senate would soon open floor debate on the Gang of Eight bill.
In his weekly radio address, Obama urged voters to lobby their congressional representatives to support the bill.
The open Senate debate would allow lawmakers to begin offering and voting on amendments to the 1,000-page bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hopes to finish voting on the bill before the July 4 recess.
In the House, negotiations on a separate bipartisan bill seemed endangered by Rep. Raúl Labrador's (R-Idaho) recent decision to leave the group crafting the measure. Labrador said he was walking away from the legislation because he was concerned taxpayers would end up paying for the healthcare of those in the country illegally.
The Senate legislation says immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally and are granted provisional legal status under the proposed bill cannot receive federal benefits stemming from the healthcare law.
Other House Republicans have suggested that the Senate bill does not adequately address border security, or should not include a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally.
Obama on Tuesday insisted, "nobody's taking border enforcement lightly," while arguing a tough but fair pathway to citizenship was necessary to incentivize immigrants in the U.S. illegally to come out from the shadows.
"Yes, they broke the rules. They didn't wait their turn. They shouldn't be let off easily. They shouldn't be allowed to game the system," Obama said.
The White House has attempted to keep focus on Obama's second-term policy agenda in recent weeks, despite headlines dominated by controversies over the National Security Agency's secret surveillance programs and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative political groups.
On Monday, the president held events at the White House commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Pay Act and nominating Jason Furman as the next chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. The president did not take questions from reporters at either of those events, nor did he at Tuesday's immigration speech.