Senators urge Obama to stay on sidelines of immigration debate

Authors of a Senate immigration reform bill say they do not want President Obama to play a more active role in pushing the legislation.
 
Members of the Gang of Eight said they are content to have Obama keep his distance as they scrounge for Republican votes.

“I think he’s played the right role so far — the outside cheerleader, if you want to call it that — that’s been I think useful and effective,” Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeJeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Republican former Michigan governor says he's voting for Biden Maybe they just don't like cowboys: The president is successful, some just don't like his style MORE (R-Ariz.), one of the bill’s authors, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. “As a Republican, it would be more difficult were he out front and pushing this issue.”

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Obama has kept close tabs on the Senate bill’s progress, but he has played a restrained role in putting public pressure on lawmakers to vote for it.

“He has called us — he called me just a couple of days ago. He’s called other members going along, and frankly, I think he’s been helpful,” said Flake.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (D-Colo.), another member of the Gang of Eight, said Obama has been smart to let lawmakers handle the negotiations over the bill.

“The president obviously wants to pass immigration reform. There’s no question about that. I think that he’s been constructive in this process, allowing us to see how far we can get on the legislation, negotiating it together,” Bennet said. “I expect us to continue to do that on the floor. If things could continue the way they’ve been, that would be very positive.”

The bill’s sponsors are confident it can attract the 60 votes it needs to clear the Senate, but they want to win as many as 70 votes to put more pressure on House Republicans to act. They view that strategy as more effective than the prospect of Obama hammering Republicans with speeches and rallies to support immigration reform.

“I’m very confident of getting to 60, but we need more than 60. We can pass this out with 60, 61, 62, but that doesn’t do us much good in the House, so we’re still on the hunt for votes,” Flake said.

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The Senate voted by a margin of 84 to 15 Tuesday to begin debate on the 1,000-plus page immigration bill. Thirty Republicans voted to proceed, but many of them say they will oppose final passage unless changes are made to strengthen the bill’s border security provisions and limit federal benefits to immigrants granted provisional legal status.

Obama praised the legislation Tuesday as a workable compromise.

“Now, this bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. And going forward, nobody is going to get everything that they want — not Democrats, not Republicans, not me,” he said. “But this is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform.”

He warned Republican opponents not to block it.

“There is no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we’ve had in years to address this problem in a way that’s fair to middle-class families, to business owners, to legal immigrants,” he said.

The president has played a more hands-on role in trying to reach a deficit-reduction deal with Senate Republicans. He held two dinners with two dozen Senate Republicans in March and April. On Tuesday, White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughThe swamp wasn't drained — it expanded Susan Rice calls for Flynn-Kislyak transcripts to be released GOP seeks to go on offense using Flynn against Biden MORE met with a group of GOP senators to discuss the scope of the deficit problem.