WH suggests delayed vote on gay immigration proposal, sources say

Two people familiar with the Senate immigration deliberations say the White House has suggested to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy that it would be best to put off a controversy over gay marriage until a bill goes before the full Senate.

President Barack Obama backs the proposal to give equal treatment to gays and lesbians, but is unlikely to veto a broad immigration bill that does not include the provision.

Leahy, the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, has not yet said whether he will seek a vote on the provision in committee. He could raise the issue again if the bill goes before the full Senate.

The people familiar with the deliberations were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity. The White House had no comment.

All eight authors of the immigration bill have pledged to maintain the essential outlines of the legislation. A vote to add the gay rights provision could lead to approval on a party-line vote in committee, but lead to the collapse of Republican support on the Senate floor and the bill's demise.

In addition, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by early July that could render the issue largely moot.

Meanwhile, leading senators working to resolve a key issue on immigration legislation have agreed to a compromise covering expansion of a high-tech visa program, officials said Tuesday, resolving one of two major hurdles to committee passage of the landmark bill.

The deal negotiated by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, aimed to resolve the interests of the high-tech industry, which relies increasingly on skilled foreign workers, and organized labor, which represents American workers.

The officials who confirmed the agreement did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of an official announcement.

As drafted, the bill would raise the current cap on so-called H-1B visas for highly skilled workers from 65,000 annually to 110,000, with the possibility of a further rise to 180,000. The legislation also included new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs, and high-tech firms objected to some of those constraints.

Hatch, whose state has a large high-tech industry, championed their cause. Schumer, an author of the bill, worked to satisfy in his concerns. In exchange, Hatch told reporters Monday he'd committed to supporting the overall legislation when it comes to a vote in committee, lending it important GOP support.

The deal disclosed Tuesday modifies several amendments Hatch introduced on high-tech visas, including limiting some of the bill's protections for U.S. workers to companies that are more heavily dependent on H-1B visas. That would exclude many major U.S. firms.

However, the AFL-CIO said it had not agreed to the deal, and it appeared possible that the measure would move forward without the labor union's support for that piece of it.

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