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McCain, Schumer: Senate won't 'big foot' House on immigration

The Senate won't try to "big foot" the House on immigration reform, two key senators said Thursday following a White House meeting with President Obama. 

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they were willing to work with House Republicans if the lower chamber moves bills in a piecemeal fashion, and said they were “encouraged" with the prospects for immigration reform.

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“We are ready to negotiate,” McCain said. “We are ready to talk. We are ready to sit down with you.”

McCain and Schumer — two of the eight authors of the Senate’s immigration bill, said they felt better about immigration reform’s prospects in Washington given calls at a House GOP conference meeting on Wednesday by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for the House to move forward.

“If I had to choose a word to describe yesterday's House meeting, it would be encouraging,” Schumer said. 

“Immigration reform has a strong future here in Washington.”

The comments were a bit of a shift for Schumer, who two weeks ago spoke of millions marching on Washington to demand that the House move on immigration reform. He also said Republicans risked being a permanent minority party if they fail to help pass an immigration bill.

"Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership realize that doing nothing is not an option," Schumer said Thursday after the Obama meeting. "We realize their views are not the same as ours, but certainly the idea that they want to move forward on immigration reform is very, very encouraging."

The GOP conference in the House remains divided over how to handle immigration, with many Republicans strongly opposed to giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The divisions have complicated the work of Boehner, who has promised his conference he will only bring a bill to the floor that is supported by a majority of the House GOP.

“We respect the House of Representatives. We understand how difficult the leadership of Speaker Boehner is with a conference with a wide variety of views,” McCain said.

Schumer said he and other senators would look to rally support for the bill through trips across the nation and outreach efforts to business and evangelical leaders.

The pair wouldn’t comment directly on reports that President Obama is contemplating a barnstorming tour in support of the bill. Some think a strong public push by Obama could be counterproductive and raise opposition in the House.

“I believe the president, as a result of our meetings, will be respectful,” McCain said, while noting, “The challenge here is to get Republican members.”

“[The president] is willing to work with everybody and make compromises that are necessary. … To somehow say that he shouldn't be involved in that discussion is foolish,” McCain added.

Schumer, for his part, looked to dismiss comparisons drawn by some members of the House to the president's signature health care law.

On Wednesday, Republicans expressed concern the White House could ignore border security provisions in a bill, drawing a parallel to the administration’s recent decision to delay the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. They have also argued that the Senate bill's length and complexity could have unforeseen consequences, much like the health care law.

Schumer said “nothing could be further from the truth,” noting that unlike the health care law — “basically a Democratic effort” — the immigration bill “has very broad support.

“This is just what America wants us to do,” he added.

The meeting follows a pair of gatherings with the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus earlier this week at the White House, during which the president and lawmakers sought to devise a path forward. The White House also released a report touting the economic benefits of immigration reform.

White House officials have also said that members of the president's Cabinet and senior administration officials plan to meet with business and evangelical groups, and law enforcement officials in the coming weeks in an effort to build Republican support.

But despite the senators' optimism and White House pressure, the pair did not expect the House to take significant action in the coming weeks.

“I would be very surprised if any significant action was taken by the House before the August recess," McCain said.

This story was updated at 12:46 p.m.