Grassley said he wants Congress to focus on immigration policy changes while the White House stays in the background.
Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the eight senators who appeared with McCain, said the issue of gay and lesbian couples will be one of many “on the table,” but he declined to speculate whether such protections would be in any final bill.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney walked the line between openness to congressional tinkering and the president’s priorities Wednesday, but he was careful not to explicitly rain on anyone’s parade.
“There has to be a clear path, a path that ends in citizenship,” Carney said. But as for the insistence of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also a part of the Senate group, and others of a link between enforcement and citizenship opportunities, he held his fire.
“We’re not going to prejudge, you know, legislation that hasn’t been written yet,” Carney said. “I don’t want to rule out or rule in” something that is not specific.
He reiterated that the president is committed to enhancing border security and enforcement.
Obama is also willing to consider a guest-worker program demanded by GOP senators such as Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is also a member of the group of eight, Carney said.
And on the issue of protections for gay and lesbian couples, Carney said the president’s position should not come as a surprise.
“The president has long believed that Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love,” he said.
It’s not yet clear, however, whether that’s something the White House might be willing to trade away, if needed, to secure votes for the larger bill.
And any Republicans wanting the president to lower his profile on the issue are sure to be disappointed. The White House clearly feels that its successes of the past few years have come when the president has marshaled support from across the country, rather than playing an inside Washington, D.C., salon game.
Obama also believes that Republicans need the legislation to pass for obvious demographic reasons, given the wave of Latino voters who supported the president’s re-election last year. Administration officials think the president’s postelection push already helped spur the group of senators to come to an accord.
Schumer, who said he has spoken with the president several times “face to face,” stressed that Obama is allowing Congress to do its work.
“He is rallying the country to do reform, getting us all together, but at the same time giving us the space to get something done, and I’ve been very impressed with not only his desire to get it done, but his ability to work with us as part of a team, as leader of the team, which he is, but to get it done,” Schumer said.