White House Woos GOP On Immigration

W.H. woos GOP on immigration

By Carol E. Lee and Kasie Hunt
The Politico (Washington, DC), May 4, 2010

The White House is set to step up pressure on some key Republicans in hopes of winning support for comprehensive immigration reform.

But its shaping up to be a struggle, based on interviews with the senators President Barack Obama has approached on the issue.

The administration is starting with a pool of 11 Republicans who voted for immigration reform in 2006. Subtract a few who are dead-ends such as John McCain, who faces a tough primary in Arizona and that leaves the White House zeroing in on several others, including Dick Lugar, Judd Gregg and Lisa Murkowski and a couple of newcomers: Scott Brown and George LeMieux.

Each got a call from President Barack Obama from Air Force One two weeks ago. And last Wednesday, Obama stressed that without Republican support immigration reform is a nonstarter.

Next up, White House staff will reach out to the senators staffs to test out an outline of a Democratic proposal on immigration. Senate Democrats also have approached the White House about hosting an immigration summit to elevate the issue, an idea that came up during a meeting with immigration groups last Thursday, a person familiar with the meeting said.

Six other Republican senators voted for immigration reform four years ago Bob Bennett, Sam Brownback, Susan Collins, Mitch McConnell, Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich but here are the Top 5 the White House is focused on now:

George LeMieux of Florida
Open to talking, wants to see Obama out front

Hes seen as open to supporting reform because hes a seat warmer who will be out of the Senate next year, after taking the seat that opened up when Mel Martinez retired.

LeMieux is considered a possible challenger to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, but voting for immigration reform isnt seen as harmful to that effort because Floridas Latino voters are a powerful voting bloc.

When asked whether he would consider supporting an immigration bill, LeMieux said he has not seen the Democrats proposal but is more than willing to meet with them to review it. But, he said, reform is going to require a hands-on approach from Obama.

'Immigration is obviously a big issue for Florida. Its a big issue for this country,' LeMieux said. 'Its going to take a lot of leadership from the president were going to need to see the president get out behind a proposal.'

Dick Lugar of Indiana

Friendship with Obama doesnt extend to backing reform

Lugar voted for immigration reform in 2006 and is one of Obamas closest friends in the Senate.
But he said the White House is wasting its time on him and 'can cross me off' the shortlist of potential Republican supporters.

'Im not planning to support an immigration bill or co-sponsor one this year,' Lugar said. 'I reserve the right to vote for or against one if one occurs. It appears to me, given the schedule of the Senate, its not going to happen.'

Scott Brown of Massachusetts

41st Republican wants a focus on jobs instead

Brown is an obvious target for Democrats on immigration reform. Hes new, represents a liberal state and has promised to work across the aisle, which he has in voting with Democrats on a jobs bill and unemployment benefits. He also replaced the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat who, along with McCain, co-sponsored the 2006 immigration bill.

Brown didnt want to talk immigration reform, though. When asked what it would take to win him over, he said, 'Id have to see what theyre proposing.'

'Were working on financial reform. The president called me, but thats it,' he added. 'I think we should be focusing on jobs instead of all this other stuff.' He said he doesnt think immigration reform is related to jobs concerns.

Judd Gregg of New Hampshire

Wants to strengthen border security first

Hes been one of the Obama administrations toughest critics on budget and deficit issues, but Gregg voted for immigration reform in 2006 and has preconditions for supporting it again.

Before hell even discuss a comprehensive immigration bill, he said, his precondition is that the administration must take immediate and separate action on securing the border. Even legislation that secures the border first, as Democrats propose, is not enough.

'Right now, the administration is in hiding on the issue of enforcing security at the border. Theyve got the resources, theyve got the authorization, and they just need to do it,' said Gregg, suggesting the National Guard be posted along the border within months. 'The American people are not going to agree to immigration reform until they see the border secured.'

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

Reform prospects not 'favorable'

Murkowski voted for immigration reform in 2006. As vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, she said her office has been meeting with Latino leaders to discuss immigration.

But she told Obama in their phone call that 'the likelihood of something happening this year is pretty slim until the situation down on the border in Arizona is resolved.'

When asked if she would rule out taking up reform this year, Murkowski said: 'I do not believe that the prospects are favorable at all, and Im certainly not working to help accelerate it.'