US President Barack Obama will hold talks Tuesday with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two Republicans who have joined Democrats in proposing a plan for comprehensive immigration reform.
The White House confirmed the talks were on the schedule but did not provide further details, while McCain said he expected the discussions to focus on “issues of the day” like immigration, which the president has flagged as key to his second term, and the looming federal spending cuts.
“I would imagine that it probably has a lot to do with immigration and or sequestration, but I was not told the topic of our conversation” ahead of time,” McCain told reporters late Monday.
The onetime presidential nominee is the senior Republican member of the bipartisan “gang of eight” — with four Senate Democrats including Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer — seeking to craft immigration legislation that would provide a “tough but fair” pathway to citizenship for most of the undocumented workers in the United States.
The president laid out his own plan around the same time late last month that also proposes a way out of the shadows for the 11 million illegal immigrants.
The senators have said they are hoping to introduce legislation in March, and McCain suggested such a timetable was still possible.
After facing criticism for not reaching out to Republicans before unveiling his proposal, Obama placed calls to his Senate opponents including McCain, Graham and Marco Rubio to discuss prospects for bipartisan reform.
Obama and top Republicans, notably Rubio, a Cuban-American rising star seen as crucial to the effort, are for once in agreement that political and demographic trends have suddenly shifted to offer the best chance for serious immigration reform in a generation.
Both plans would require some form of universal employer verification, initiate a kind of legal status while working toward a green (legal residency) card, as well as English language classes and for back taxes and penalties to be paid.
But despite the similarities, Rubio has slammed Obama’s alternative as “dead on arrival” and “seriously flawed.”
A key difference appears to be an enforcement trigger in Rubio’s plan that would mean pathways to citizenship would not open until certain border security measures were in place.
McCain said Obama and the senators were “making progress” on a deal.
“The president has encouraged us to move forward, so I don’t know that we’re apart at all.”
McCain represents Arizona, on the US border with Mexico, from which a majority of the undocumented migrants hail.