Obama Delays Immigration Meeting; Members Await Invitations

Obama Delays Immigration Meeting; Members Await Invitations

By Jennifer Bendery
Roll Call (Washington, DC), June 3, 2009

President Barack Obama is postponing a key meeting with immigration reform stakeholders because of a scheduling conflict.

The meeting with top lawmakers and advocacy groups was originally set for June 8 but is now being rescheduled for June 17. A White House spokesman said the postponement is because of the presidents travel schedule.

Details of the meeting remain unclear, including who will be invited or what stakeholders expect to come from it.

'The president is inviting a small group of bipartisan Senate and House leaders on the immigration issue to the White House for a meeting to have an honest discussion of the issues, identify areas of agreement, and areas where we still have work to do,' said the White House aide.

Even leading proponents of immigration reform, such as Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velzquez (D-N.Y.), have yet to be formally invited to the meeting. A Velzquez aide said the only information the lawmaker has gotten about the meeting has come from the media.

An aide to another CHC member said the word is that Obama 'wants this meeting to be small, so its unclear if he will only invite key stakeholders, like committee chairs or leadership.' Some lawmakers have concerns as to whether 'all members of the CHC will even be invited,' said the aide. 'Im sure everybody wants to go.'

Obama has signaled support for discussions on comprehensive immigration reform this year but not for passing legislation. That sentiment was conveyed in the statement given by his spokesman Wednesday: 'The meeting is intended to launch a policy conversation, with the hope of beginning the debate in earnest later this year.'

But that hasnt stopped immigration reform groups from ramping up pressure on Obama to help pass legislation this year.

A coalition of 10 labor unions, business coalitions, civil rights and religious groups spent Wednesday launching a new campaign 'to help President Obama make good on his promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2009.'

The goal of the group, called Reform Immigration for America, is to demonstrate a commitment 'to win the legislative battle expected later in the year,' according to coalition press materials. The group describes the White House meeting as the chance to 'discuss plans to move legislation forward this year.'

Coalition members include the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the National Council of La Raza and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) touched on immigration reform during remarks at Wednesdays Asian American and Pacific Islander Summit. But neither gave a time frame for legislative action.

'I know that comprehensive immigration reform is a priority for all of you. It is also a priority for President Obama. We all agree that we need immigration reform that will keep our country safe, reunite families, protect workers, meet our economic needs, and have a pathway to legalization,' Pelosi said.

Reid pledged to 'again pursue comprehensive immigration reform' and said he is 'committed to reforming our system in a way that is tough, fair and practical.'


Grumbles over immigration meeting
By Amie Parnes
The Politico (Washington, DC), June 4, 2009

Ever since the White House announced that it would holding a meeting to discuss immigration, theres been some grumbling on the Hill about the invite list.

An administration official said this week that Obama is inviting 'a small group' of bipartisan Senate and House leaders to the White House on June 17 to 'launch a policy conversation, with the hope of beginning the debate in earnest later this year.'

The White House has kept the guest list private, but invitees include, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who may introduce an immigration reform bill by the end of this year, as well as Reps. Xavier Becerra, the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, and John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee chairman. Not invited: Sen. John McCain, who introduced an immigration bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy and played a central role in the debate in recent years.

A spokesperson for McCain would not comment on the meeting. But other Democrats and Republicans who have been actively involved in the immigration issue have complained that the White House isnt being inclusive during their planning of what is likely to be a contentious debate.

'This is not smart politics for the administration as far as Hill relations go because this is not going to be a Democrat versus Republican debate,' one senior Democratic aide said. 'They will need more than just their friends to support them.'

Republicans who have been involved in the debate are scratching their heads, too, at not scoring an invite to the planned discussion.

'Why invite yourself to a party?' said one senior GOP aide, whose boss had been involved in recent immigration debates.

The aide suggested the White House might be using the meeting as a 'smokescreen to cover Obamas campaign promise,' giving proponents of immigration reform a symbolic victory, but not necessarily making a good-faith push to pass legislation.

'This is a show,' the aide continued. 'Theres neither the time nor the inclination to deal with immigration later this year and going into next year. Its a political football. Why not highlight the perceived divide between Hispanics and Republicans? What better wedge issue than immigration?'