The Obama administration has found itself on the defensive over the botched Obamacare rollout and allegations of National Security Agency spying against allies.
But President Obama, fresh off the shutdown fight, is going on the offensive over immigration reform, seeing a chance to further split already-divided Republicans and boost Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterms.
Obama has urged lawmakers to deliver a bill to his desk by the end of the year.
A bipartisan Senate bill passed earlier this summer, but efforts in the House stalled with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., opposing a comprehensive bill and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, vowing to only push legislation backed by the GOP caucus.
The White House insists Obama “firmly believes” immigration reform can pass and the president is pushing his case.
Republicans, though, are skeptical of Obama’s commitment to negotiate with them on immigration, charging him with trying to score political points with Hispanic voters.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has said chances to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this fall are all but dead and cited Republicans' “lack of trust” in Obama as the reason.
“The notion that they're going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration,” Rubio said on Fox News Sunday after the government shutdown ended, “is much more difficult to do.” Rubio said Republicans simply don't trust the president to follow through with his end of the bargain.
Any immigration deal Rubio and other reform advocates, such as Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, cut with the White House would likely hinge on offering illegal immigrants already in the country a path to citizenship in exchange for tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws. But Republicans, Rubio said, don't believe Obama will make good on those enforcement provisions.
Obama, though, has little incentive to drop his immigration push even if Republican lawmakers are unmoved by his appeals.
Democrats know immigration reform divides the GOP, with business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce facing off against a core group of conservatives in the House who want to see tougher border enforcement before accepting measures they deride as granting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
Boehner must contend with an aggressive group usually aligned with the GOP that wants to see a comprehensive immigration bill passed. An unusual coalition of business executives and evangelical leaders held a lobbying blitz supporting a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws on Capitol Hill this week.
The sponsors included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Immigration Forum, FWD.us — a political action group established by Silicon Valley executives including Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook — and the Partnership for a New American Economy, which is led jointly by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and business leaders Rupert Murdoch and Bill Marriott Jr.
A large homemade sign at Washington Reagan National Airport greeting those immigration reform proponents earlier this week reflected the intra-party tension on the issue. “Welcome phony conservatives here for the fly-in,” it said.
Business groups threaten to withhold financial support to Republican lawmakers they see as blocking progress on a comprehensive immigration bill.
If fundraising dries up and minority voters blame Republicans for immigration inaction, Democrats could have an advantage in several key House races next year.
Two of the most vulnerable House Republicans, California Reps. Gary Miller and David Valadao, are trying to protect seats in heavily Hispanic districts, along with fellow Californian Rep. Jeff Denham and Nevada Rep. Joe Heck.
At the same time, Democrats are trying to defend a number of Democratic incumbents in swing districts with a high percentage of Hispanic voters, including Arizona Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Barber, Kyrsten Sinema, and California Reps. Raul Ruiz, Ami Bera and Scott Peters.
Immigration-reform advocates, though, caution that Hispanic voters expect Washington to act and will be attuned to any political gamesmanship by either side.
“Latinos and Asian voters especially in the targeted districts are watching this debate very closely,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum told the Washington Examiner.
“They will know if a Republican member is fighting for immigration reform but they will also know if Democrats are just playing politics with immigration reform.”