In a last-minute schedule update, President Obama penciled in a meeting today with police chiefs and sheriffs to talk about his topic of the hour: gun control.
“We recognize that this is an issue that elicits a lot of passion all across the country. And Joe and my Cabinet members who have been involved in this have been on a listening session over the last several months. No group is more important for us to listen to than our law enforcement officials,” Obama said. “They are where the rubber hits the road.”
But Congress managed to steal his thunder by turning to another issue that ignites passionate debate — one that Obama promised to deal with in his first term but left unresolved.
And far from being a surefire gotcha issue for Republicans, the comprehensive immigration reform framework rolled out today at a Senate press conference threatens to drive a wedge into a party that’s trying to find its footing on the road back to the White House.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he and the rest of the Gang of Eight — Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Lindsey Graham (R-Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — hope to turn their “set of bipartisan principles” into legislation by March with the goal of passage by mid-year.
“The key to our compromise is to recognize that Americans overwhelming oppose illegal immigration, and support legal immigration,” Schumer said. From there, they based the framework on four “pillars”: “a tough, but fair path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders,” unspecified reforms of the immigration legal system, creating an “effective employment verification system, that will prevent identity theft, and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers,” and admitting workers “to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”
“The politics on this issue have been turned upside down. For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it,” Schumer said. “…By their presence today, my Republican colleagues are making a significant statement about the need to fix our broken immigration system. We Democrats are equally serious.”
Perhaps to keep viewers tuned in to the full length of the news conference, the senators present spoke in turn and saved Rubio for last.
“I see immigration every single day. I see the good of immigration. I see how important it is for our future,” the Florida Republican said. “…By the same token, I see the negative that illegal immigration has been for our country, and the problems that it causes.”
He called the millions of illegal immigrants in the country today “not something that anyone is happy about, that’s not something that anyone wanted to see happen, but that is what happened.”
“I think today is an important first step in what’s going to be a significantly — a significant complicated journey. Because, the issue of immigration is not a simple one. But I think we have the opportunity to do it right. And if we do, I think we’ll do a tremendous service to our country and our future,” Rubio said.
The only freshman in the Group of Eight, Flake, wasn’t at the press conference. Serving in McCain’s border state, the former House member won the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
“While there are still many details to be worked out, I recognize that in order to address the many facets of immigration reform, it’s going to take a bipartisan commitment. Yes, ‘the devil’s in the details,’ and not everyone is going to like everything, but sitting idly by is not a responsible approach,” said Flake.
“I have always insisted that any reform plan not include a blanket amnesty and these principles reflect that,” he added. “I’m also particularly pleased that there is bipartisan support to include the input of border communities. Not only will security be strengthened according to Washington, DC, but border communities will have a say as well.”
Graham, still serving on reserve duty in Afghanistan but no stranger to bipartisan immigration reform efforts, said in a statement, “I hope the third time is the charm.”