Graham to Obama: Time to ‘Step It Up’

Glenn Thrush, Politico, March 10, 2010

President Barack Obama is summoning two key senators to the Oval Office on Thursday for an update on immigration reform efforts–but one of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), thinks Obama should be the one giving the update.

Graham, less than thrilled at the notion of providing the equivalent of a book report to the headmaster in chief, said Obama’s lack of direction on immigration reform is hampering Graham’s efforts to recruit additional Republicans to the cause.

“At the end of the day, the president needs to step it up a little bit,” Graham told POLITICO on Tuesday. “One line in the State of the Union is not going to do it.”

For the past six months, Graham and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)–who meet with Obama at 3 p.m. Thursday–have worked on a reform framework. Their plan, which hasn’t been introduced yet, includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (a liberal must-have) while sweetening the pot for moderates by proposing tough new safeguards, including a biometric national ID card for workers.

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Graham said he wants a greater sense of direction to break the cycle of distrust that doomed comprehensive immigration reform during the Bush administration, despite the support of a Republican president and major party figures like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“I think moderate Democrats have to come on board before you get Republicans, and Republicans have to come on board before you get Democrats,” said Graham.

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While many Democrats publicly embrace comprehensive reform, most are privately rooting for inertia rather than tying themselves to any proposal that could be used against them in the midterms.

The tough part for Obama, however, is that the Obama-Graham-Schumer summit is also being closely watched by Hispanic groups, who are demanding proof of action as a reward for their overwhelming support of Obama in 2008.

With a massive March 21 pro-immigration reform rally planned for Washington, and Latinos the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, Obama can ill afford to alienate them.

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Immigration reform, he [Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American] added, “would seal the community’s commitment to the Democratic Party.”

That opinion is shared by a collection of Hispanic groups, who have pressured the White House in forceful terms, threatening to withdraw support if Obama doesn’t follow through on his commitment.

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