WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that conversations between the White House and members of Congress have begun over immigration reform, adding that lawmakers would introduce a bill "very soon" into his second term.
"This has not historically been a partisan issue," he said in his first press conference since being reelected. "We've had President Bush, John McCain and others who have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past. So we need to seize the moment."
It is the most optimistic statement the president has made publicly to date about the prospect of accomplishing immigration reform in the next four years. That could be because Republican lawmakers have begun to speak openly about addressing the subject after losing heavily among Latino voters during the 2012 elections.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that they were re-committing themselves to pushing for broad immigration reform, in part as a political necessity for their party. Graham confirmed to The Huffington Post that he was working alongside Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to introduce a bill soon after the new congressional session begins that mimics the plan they laid out in 2010. Graham detailed some of the components that he hoped to pursue shortly after finishing a question-and-answer session at The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum.
"It is going to be economic-based future immigration, merit-based, economic immigration in the future, firm and fair with the 12 million [undocumented here]," he said. "But we've got to take chained migration and turn it to an economic based immigration system."
Back on Capitol Hill, McCain told reporters that he expects any bill to include visa reform so employers could more easily hire foreign workers they need, but wouldn't speculate as to whether that provision would help more Republicans to get on board.
"Everybody's always agreed that's part of immigration reform, and that was in our Kennedy-McCain bill," he said, referring to the failed bill he advanced with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2005 and again in 2007. "I don't look at it that way. I just view it as an integral part of the package."
"I think most of them are convinced that we need to take it up," he said of his colleagues, adding that he hasn't asked them whether an immigration bill should include a pathway to citizenship.
Those comments were echoed hours later by the president, who clearly wanted the item addressed during his first post-election press conference. Choosing a reporter from Telemundo to ask the third question, Obama responded by laying out a broad framework that followed the lines of bipartisan plans in the past.
"There are going to be a bunch of components to it, but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security is strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for the undocumented here, needs to deal with the Dream Act kids," Obama said of his plan. "And I think that's something that we can get done."
Obama gave himself some wiggle room by saying a bill must include a "pathway to legal status" -- which could include citizenship but wouldn't necessarily, allowing for potential compromise if Republicans insist the plan should allow undocumented immigrants already in the United States to become legal residents but not citizens.
He did use the word "citizenship" for undocumented young people who would be eligible for the Dream Act, as well as for his June directive to block the deportation of immigrants who entered the U.S. as children if they meet certain criteria.
"One thing that I'm very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to our flag, who want to serve in our military, who want to go to school and contribute to our society, that they shouldn't be under the cloud of deportation, that we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship," he said.