Texas legislators join Obama in immigration talks
By Todd J. Gillman
The Dallas Morning News, June 28, 2009
Washington, DC — President Barack Obama has hosted high-level brainstorming sessions on health care, fiscal policy and government transparency in his first five months. Last week, after several delays, he got around to hosting a summit on immigration.
The Texas lawmakers on hand emerged with varied assessments of Obama's willingness to break a sweat in order to break an impasse on immigration.
'People tried to posture, both on the left and the right,' said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, chairman of the House intelligence committee.
'The bottom line is going to be what results we get out of it, obviously. The president is very much interested in getting this done.'
Obama had disappointed many Hispanic advocates by putting immigration reform low on his domestic agenda, far below health care, energy policy and economic stimulus. Thursday's meeting, with key congressional players from both parties, was an attempt to jump-start talks.
Two Texas Republicans at the meeting, Sen. John Cornyn and San Antonio Rep. Lamar Smith, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, weren't as sure as Reyes about Obama's commitment.
'The risk is that this just turns into just another photo op and nothing really happens,' Cornyn said afterward. The administration's agenda is ambitious, he said, 'but you begin to wonder if there's a lot of motion, but not a lot of accomplishment.'
Progress, he said, 'is only going to come if people are willing to roll up their sleeves and get into the details. So far, I don't see a lot of that going on.'
Smith questioned Obama's willingness to embrace the security part of the 'comprehensive' equation, citing resistance to tighter driver's license standards, for instance.
He also complained that Obama stacked the meeting with 'amnesty supporters. … It would be unwise to reward lawbreakers in any circumstances, particularly with 14 million unemployed citizens and legal immigrants.'
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel conceded that consensus has been elusive: 'If the votes were there, you wouldn't need to have the meeting. You'd go to a roll call.'
The list of unsolved issues is long. Hardliners want more border security, and crackdowns on undocumented workers and those who hire them.
Others demand a new guest worker program and, perhaps, naturalization or other legal status for the 12 million or so in the country already.
Cornyn, like most Republicans, opposes anything that smacks of 'amnesty.'
Unions are pushing hard against any new temporary worker program.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., urged Obama, his rival for president, to take on his friends over that and generally to get more involved, before his popularity slides and opportunity fades.
Time is short. Obama said he wants a bill by early next year, and the closer it gets to the 2010 midterm elections, the greater the risk that politicians will hide from a tricky issue.
'We've got one more chance to do this,' said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 'If we fail this time around, no politician is going to take this up in a generation.'
Todd J. Gillman is Washington Bureau Chief of The Dallas Morning News.
Obama feeling strain over immigration reform
White House summit to show support may buy him a little time
By Richard S. Dunham and Gary Martin
The Houston Chronicle, June 28, 2009