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Obama Reaches Out to GOP Senators in Immigration Talks

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
The president reached out Tuesday to the Republican members of the Senate’s immigration working group, including Graham.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday called three of the four Republican senators working with four Senate Democrats to draft comprehensive immigration legislation that they hope to unveil next month.

“This afternoon, the President placed calls to [the senators] to discuss their shared commitment to bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform and to commend the Senators for the bipartisan progress that continues to be made by the Gang of 8 on this important issue,” the White House said in a release.

Obama spoke with John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida. The fourth GOP member of the group, Jeff Flake of Arizona, was traveling, but the White House said Obama “looks forward to discussing the issue with him in the near future.”

Obama met with Democratic members last week.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant tweeted that the senator “appreciated [the president’s] call to discuss immigration tonight. Rubio said he feels good about ongoing negotiations in Senate.”

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney disputed charges from Conant that the White House has not reached out to the GOP.

“President Obama and the White House staff are not working with Republicans on immigration reform,” Conant said in an email to reporters, disputing the White House’s account. “Senator Rubio’s office has never discussed immigration policy with anyone in the White House. To be clear: That’s fine with us — we actually think Congress should write the policy; not the White House.”

Carney, asked about the comment, insisted that the White House has been in meetings with the staffs of members of the “gang of eight,” of which Rubio is a member.

In the readout of the White House’s afternoon calls to GOP senators, the White House carefully noted that the calls “build on conversations that have taken place at the staff level.”

The White House said the president reiterated to Republicans “that he remains supportive of the effort under way in Congress, and that he hopes that they can produce a bill as soon as possible that reflects shared core principles on reform.”

“The President has made clear that he believes commonsense reform needs to include strengthening border security, creating an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable, and streamlining legal immigration,” the White House continued. “As the President made clear when he met with Democratic Senators involved in the process last week, that while he is pleased with the progress and supportive of the effort to date, he is prepared to submit his own legislation if Congress fails to act. He thanked the Senators for their leadership, and made clear that he and his staff look forward to continuing to work together with their teams to achieve needed reform.”

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