The president needs to get personally involved in the high-stakes immigration battle to overcome growing GOP distrust, Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Monday.
“I have serious concerns about trust all around in town right now, which suggests the way to get out is leadership,” Donohue told reporters at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
“We need leadership in the business community, we need leadership in the House, we need leadership in the Senate, and we need leadership in the White House,” he said.
However, he indirectly acknowledged the difficulty of getting the unpopular bill through Congress this year, amid bitter partisan fights over higher-priority budgets bills.
“We’ve got a whole year plus [left to go] of this Congress,” he said.
The backers of the immigration bill had initially hoped to get it done by August 2013.
Donohue’s call for Obama to get more involved comes as more GOP legislators say the immigration deal should be sidelined because Obama can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith, or even to implement provisions that he doesn’t like.
In a television appearance Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that criticisms of the immigration rewrite were valid. “Quite frankly, it’s difficult to find a good answer to that… they make a very legitimate point,” said the Florida Republican, a key member of the “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the bill that passed the Senate in June. (Related: Rubio: Obama undermines immigration reform push with selective enforcement of the law)
“Absolutely — the president has undermined these efforts” to pass a bill, Rubio told “Fox News Sunday.”
At the breakfast meeting Monday, Donohue called for “leadership” in the House, but the GOP’s top leadership is still debating the risks and benefits of the Senate bill, which would triple immigration over the next 10 years.
The bill is backed by business, partly because it would boost immigration up to 33 million new customers and legal workers over the next 10 years and bring in millions of short-term guest-workers.
Major portions of the immigration bill are very unpopular among voters, and especially unpopular among the GOP’s base.
If the leadership pushes a bill through Congress, there’s a risk that the base won’t turn out in November 2014, handing Democrats control of the House.
Democratic control of the White House, Senate and House “would be a long two years” for the business community, Donohue told the reporters.
Obama could build trust “by getting involved and helping us come to a satisfactory and progressive — meaning moving forward — set of solutions on tax and spending, and on entitlements,” Donohue said.
“He will not get there if he doesn’t do what he says he’ll do — get involved and negotiate,” Donohue said.
However, White House press secretary jay Carney strongly hinted last week that the president would not play a leadership role in the budget talks. (Related: Obama WALKS AWAY from new budget talks, setting stage for next shutdown showdown)
“The president will be as involved as he and members of the Congress believe to be useful,” he said.
“Our view is that [in 2013] the House passed a budget, the Senate passed a budget; that’s how the process is supposed to work,” Carney said. “The president has already demonstrated a level of seriousness through the budget he put forward.”
“Flacks do [say] that, don’t they?” Donohue responded when The Daily Caller cited Carney’s comments.
“History is very clear, the most successful administrations… are those that get intimately involved in leading and working with the other leaders in town,” he said.
So far, three pro-immigration GOP congressmen have publicly declared that no deal is possible because Obama can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith or to comply with parts of the deal he doesn’t like.
“I believe in immigration reform… [but] I have seen in these negotiations that [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid and President Obama will not negotiate in good faith,” Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said last week on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.
“We have reached a tipping point and can no longer continue working on a broad approach to immigration,” said a September statement from two Texas Republicans. “Obama time and again has unilaterally disregarded the U.S. Constitution, the letter of the law and bypassed the Congress — the body most representative of the people — in order to advance his political agenda,” Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson wrote.
“I think there is less trust now than in the three years I’ve been here,” Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who chairs the immigration panel on Goodlatte’s judiciary committee, told his home-district newspaper last week.