WASHINGTON — After months of insisting the House should take up the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June, President Barack Obama changed tactics Thursday and said he might consider GOP proposals to overhaul separate parts of the immigration system.
The White House is hoping that public anger at the 16-day government shutdown has so badly damaged the GOP that House Republican leaders will consider immigration reform as a way to improve their popularity with moderate voters.
Obama’s aides also are intent on showing the president is willing to compromise, partly to counter GOP charges that he was inflexible during the bitter shutdown standoff.
In remarks at the White House, Obama hinted that he was no longer tied to the Senate bill, the elaborate product of months of intense bipartisan negotiations, to achieve what he has called a major priority for his second term.
Obama instead signaled that he might consider a package of smaller bills, if necessary, as long as they provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status.
“If House Republicans have new and different additional ideas on how we should move forward, then we want to hear them. I’ll be listening,” Obama told several dozen pro-reform activists from labor, business and religious groups.
White House spokesman Jay Carney echoed the shift, telling reporters there are “a variety of ways that you can reach the ultimate goal” of a bill that Obama could sign into law.
“The House’s approach will be up to the House,” Carney said. “There is a comprehensive bill the House Democrats have put together that is similar to the Senate bill and reflects the president’s principles. But the means by which we arrive at our destination is in some ways of course up to the lawmakers who control the houses of Congress.”
The White House effort to resuscitate a bill that seemed all but dead in the House before the shutdown still faces steep and perhaps insurmountable odds. But the jockeying Thursday raised at least some hope that compromise remains possible.
In recent weeks, GOP leaders have worked behind the scenes to craft legislative proposals that might pass muster with rank-and-file Republicans and — if joined with a legalization program — could appeal to the White House.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have met in small groups to write bills that would change parts of the immigration system. GOP proposals include adding high-tech visas, revamping farm and low-skilled immigrant labor programs, and ramping up border security.