What role will Obama play in immigration reform? It's not clear, yet.
The House and Senate appear to have very different opinions of how to achieve an immigration overhaul, however, President Obama has no plans to tour the country to make a case for immigration reform as he did for healthcare. Instead, he is meeting with various groups in Washington.
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There is some skepticism at the White House that if Obama speaks out about immigration, it will drive away House Republicans, since many want to kill the legislation whether he talks about it or not.Skip to next paragraph
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One White House official said any presidential activity on the subject would be based on a calculation of whether it was needed and would be helpful.
We'll speak out, we'll travel, we'll do things with different decibels, depending on what we think will help move the ball," one White House official said.
'Got to let it simmer'
Obama is getting cautionary advice from other players in the immigration debate, such as Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, which has been lobbying strongly for immigration reform.
Donohue said Obama needed to strike a balance on immigration reform and not try to rush House Republicans.
"He should be very careful not to get down into the weeds on this thing. He's got to let it simmer. He's got to let the House work its business," said Donohue.
Donohue and other supporters of reform said Obama's focus should be on boosting public support for an immigration overhaul. Supporters hope that if constituents in various lawmakers' districts voice their backing for the legislation, it could influence the debate in the House.
Obama has made passing an immigration overhaul a significant priority of his second term after giving the issue short shrift in his first four years because there was no political momentum for it in Congress and he was preoccupied with trying to get the U.S. economy going.
In the past when Obama has been faced with a high-profile debate in Washington, he has frequently argued his case to the voters in travels across the country, but with mixed success.
His high-decibel argument to persuade Republicans not to let $85 billion in automatic spending cuts take place last spring fell on deaf ears and the budget cuts went into effect.
Republican Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, who served until recently on a working group on immigration and is open to a comprehensive bill, said Obama's effort to pass gun legislation this year was an example of why he did not think the president traveling to pitch immigration reform would help.
"All I remember is that the last time he traveled for a big issue, he killed it. He might actually want to rethink that," he said.
But there are many voices among Democrats who think a highly visible campaign would help pressure Republicans who saw overwhelming numbers of Hispanics vote for Obama's re-election over Republican challenger Mitt Romney last November.
"I think the president should be out there talking about it and pushing it, not just for political reasons," said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. "He ought to be out there pushing this because someday it has to happen."
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
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