White House calls draft immigration plan a backup

Barack Obama

Republican Sen. John McCain predicted Sunday that the administration's efforts would come up short if the White House went forward with a proposal to put the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. on a long pathway to citizenship. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who met with Obama on Wednesday at the White House to discuss progress, urged his allies in the administration to give a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers the time to hammer out a deal on their own.

Sharp shifts in the political landscape have put an immigration overhaul tantalizingly close. Hispanics made up 10 percent of the electorate in the November election, and Obama won about 70 percent of their votes, in part because of the conservative immigration positions staked out by Republicans during their presidential nominating contest.

The general election forced some Republican lawmakers to reconsider their opposition to comprehensive immigration changes, clearing the way for the swift consensus that has emerged between the White House and bipartisan lawmakers in recent weeks.

Obama's newly appointed top aide, chief of staff Denis McDonough, said the White House would only send its plan to Congress if the lawmakers stumble in their efforts and cast its efforts as a backup plan.

``Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed,'' McDonough said of the president's pitch, first reported on USA Today's website late Saturday.

"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down,'' McDonough said in a second interview, adding he's optimistic they would not crumble.

The administration's proposal would create a visa for those in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years, and they would later be eligible to become U.S. citizens. The proposal also includes more funding for border security and requires businesses to adopt a system for verifying the immigration status new hires.

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