Democrats To Thrust Immigration Back Into Spotlight

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in the coming weeks will introduce a new comprehensive immigration reform bill that will include a pathway to citizenship, reviving a debate that could help Democrats in the short-term but could also be as brutal as it’s been in years past. President Obama is framing the issue to the crucial Latino voting bloc as one party is with them, and the other is against them.

Menendez’s bill is based on the bipartisan framework developed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), according to a plan revealed last night as the White House released some details of President Obama’s private huddle with Menendez, Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Rep. Luis Gutierrez.In a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday night, Obama told the group they have “every right to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on the Democrats, and I hope you do,” acknowledging the disappointment he hasn’t lived up to his campaign promise to make immigration reform as a top priority.

Then Obama framed the debate for the group, something you can expect to hear more in the coming weeks:

But don’t forget who is standing with you, and who is standing against you. Don’t ever believe that this election coming up doesn’t matter.

Graham has said any immigration measure is DOA this year, a position he staked out after walking away from climate change legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took political heat from the right when promising immigration would get a second look before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections. At the same time, it will help to energize base voters and the Latinos in many of the competitive Western states this fall. As an aide told me this spring, pushing the issue helps in an election year: “Either way, we win.”

The White House said Obama told the members of Congress in the private meeting that any reform measure must include “lasting and dedicated resources for border security.” It also must demand “accountability” (read: punishment) for illegal immigrants and employers who hire them.

During the CHC speech, the president blamed “the Republican leadership’s blockade” for a lack of progress.

“Let’s be clear about this. Without the kind of bipartisan effort we had just a few short years ago, we can’t get these reforms across the finish line,” he said.

Obama noted the 2006 and 2007 efforts to pass a broad bill, both of which failed.

“The bill we forged wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t what any one person might think was optimal,” Obama said. “But because folks were willing to compromise, we came up with a commonsense, comprehensive reform that was so far from the false debates, the notion that somehow on the one hand there’s mass amnesty or on the other hand there’s some unworkable mass deportation.”

But now, “under the pressures of partisanship and election year politics, most of the 11 Republican senators who voted for that reform just four years ago have backed far away from that vote today.” He didn’t name Sen. John McCain, but attendees there said it was clear they knew he was referring to his 2008 Republican rival, who has had an election-year conversion on some of the issues he once championed.

At the CHC dinner, Obama also said he stands by Reid’s decision to get a vote on the DREAM Act dealing with immigration and education. (Read our coverage of the DREAM Act, and how this has split the Democrats, here.)

Reid has tucked the DREAM Act into the Defense Authorization bill, scheduled for a test vote on Tuesday.

Obama told Menendez, Velazquez (D-NY) and Gutierrez (D-IL) that he thinks, “it is time to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, especially when those youth grew up in America and want to serve this country in the military or pursue a higher education they have earned through academic excellence.”

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