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GOP Warns Obama to Tread Lightly on Immigration

Republicans warn Obama against heavy-handed tactics as White House pursues changes to nation’s immigration policy

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Grassley said he wants Congress to focus on immigration policy changes while the White House stays in the background.

An immigration policy rewrite may be President Barack Obama’s top priority, but Senate Republicans are warning that if he tries to influence Congress too much, the delicate talks could run aground.

“I think this is going to be a congressional thing,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday. “I think the president is going to stay out of this. He doesn’t want to talk to Congress. You saw that last fall in the fiscal cliff.

“He wants to give speeches; he wants to campaign,” Grassley continued. “So I don’t think he’s going to influence this. I don’t think he’s got enough influence to influence this anyway.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, a veteran of previous immigration policy change efforts, said he hopes the president will use a light touch when it comes to pressing for his stated prerogatives.

“I actually believe he doesn’t care much for Congress,” Hatch said. The Utah lawmaker stressed that he likes “the president personally,” but he said Obama hasn’t reached out to lawmakers on recent legislative business such as the fiscal cliff.

“I hope we provide the leadership and that he follows along,” Hatch said.

The White House has changed its approach to Congress in recent months, taking a harder line on issues such as the fiscal cliff as it saw its ability to negotiate with Republicans evaporate. And Obama surprised many in the GOP by using his inaugural address to outline an aggressive, liberal agenda for his second term.

So far on immigration, however, the White House has been willing to give Congress some leash on the issue, but only so much. Obama has already bristled at a bipartisan group of eight senators’ central compromise linking enforcement of border security improvements to any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The president is also pushing for protections for gay and lesbian couples over the objections of many Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who is a key member of the group of eight senators who outlined a bipartisan immigration agreement Monday.

McCain warned Wednesday that including those kind of social issues could kill the bill.

“I think it is a red herring,” McCain said at a Politico Playbook breakfast. “I’m telling you if you load this up with social issues and things that are controversial then it will endanger the [bill].”

McCain continued, “I’ll be glad to talk about it ... but if someone views that as the most important aspect of comprehensive immigration reform, then we just have a fundamental disagreement.”

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