After tiff, Obama calls GOP senators to talk immigration

Generic immigration census us American flag silhouettes
CBS/AP

After a public squabble over whether President Obama was in communication with Congress on immigration reform, Mr. Obama today called three key Republican senators to discuss the matter.

Mr. Obama called Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the White House said in a statement, "to discuss their shared commitment to bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform and to commend the Senators for the bipartisan progress that continues to be made by the Gang of 8 on this important issue."

Graham, McCain and Rubio are three of the four Republican senators working with four Democratic senators to craft immigration reform legislation. Mr. Obama did not speak to the fourth Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., because he is traveling today, but the White House said the president looks forward to speaking with him in the near future.

The White House said the president's phone calls today "build on conversations that have taken place at the staff level."

In a White House briefing earlier today, senior administration officials said "Gang of 8" staff had met at least five times in recent weeks with the White House policy and legislative affairs staff. Rubio's office, however, disputed that claim.

"We've never discussed immigration policy with anyone from the White House," Rubio's spokesman Alex Conant said. "The Administration has sent some agency officials to brief staff at the bipartisan group meetings, but they've never asked for our input. (And, frankly, we've never asked for theirs.) We've never received a call or email from [Mr. Obama's chief domestic policy adviser] Cecilia Munoz or anyone else at the White House asking for our input as they draft their bill."

Republicans contend that if the Obama administration is serious about drafting its own immigration reform proposals, they should be seeking at least some input from the GOP.

Today's phone calls may have at least temporarily improved the White House's relationship with Congress. Conant said on Twitter today that "@MarcoRubio appreciated @BarackObama's call to discuss immigration tonight. Rubio said he feels good about ongoing negotiations in Senate."