McCain to President Obama: Do not bow to labor unions on immigration

July 5, 2009                                                                                            Win a green card Subscribe in a reader

President Obama told congressional lawmakers Thursday that he would push for an overhaul of the nation's immigration system by early next year. But during the White House meeting, a new political obstacle came into view: how to regulate the influx of foreign workers.

Senator McCain

The issue was raised by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a principal architect of past attempts to rewrite immigration laws. McCain challenged Obama and other Democrats to stand up to labor unions that are pushing a plan business groups fear could be overly restrictive in admitting future immigrant workers. "I would expect the president of the United States to put his influence on the unions in order to change their position," McCain said after the hour-long session that included Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, senior White House officials and about 30 lawmakers from both parties.

McCain's comments came even as the White House took pains to foster the impression that the senator would be a partner in striking a deal.

Obama sat directly beside McCain, his former campaign rival, during the meeting. And the president praised the senator in his public remarks, saying McCain had "already paid a significant political cost for doing the right thing."

Still, Obama offered no commitments on how to handle future immigrant workers, and White House officials said the meeting was not meant to be a forum for policy details.

Obama did offer his firmest pledge yet as president to push aggressively for legislation by the end of this year or early 2010, according to meeting participants. The president has been reluctant to offer a timeline. As his administration in recent weeks focused attention on health care and energy, some Hispanic leaders and immigrant advocates cautioned that delaying on immigration could anger Hispanic voters who turned out strongly for Obama in last year's election.

"What I'm encouraged by is that after all the overheated rhetoric and the occasional demagoguery on all sides around this issue, we've got a responsible set of leaders sitting around the table who want to actively get something done and not put it off until a year, two years, three years, five years from now, but to start working on this thing right now," Obama said.

Obama said that his administration was "fully behind" an immigration overhaul and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would spearhead the effort. A major sticking point is whether the House would pass a key provisions demanded by advocates for immigrants: a pathway to citizenship for many of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

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