WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham pressed President Barack Obama on the importance of border security at a rare White House meeting Tuesday and came away praising the president's commitment to overhauling the nation's immigration laws.
"I believe that the president is very committed to comprehensive immigration reform," McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters afterward. "Now does that mean he's committed to anything we do? No, he has his positions on the issue as well, but I believe he is sincerely desirous of comprehensive immigration reform."
The praise from McCain and Graham, two leaders of a bipartisan Senate group developing comprehensive immigration legislation, came even though some other Republicans say Obama just wants to pursue immigration as a political issue to get Latino support and isn't truly committed to a bill.
The pair met with Obama as the White House continued to work to repair damage from a leak earlier this month of draft immigration legislation Obama was preparing, which he's said he'll make public only if the Senate working group on immigration doesn't move quickly enough. McCain said after the leak that it raised questions about Obama's commitment to the issue, and he also criticized the president for failing to communicate with Republicans on immigration.
Tuesday's meeting appeared successful in repairing relations. The White House had no immediate comment on the meeting.
"I think we'll have presidential leadership in a very productive way on immigration reform and with that we've got a very good chance of doing it this year," said Graham, R-S.C.
Both Obama's draft bill and the legislation emerging in the Senate would secure the border, improve legal immigration, crack down on employers and provide a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. An important difference is that the Senate bill would mandate a secure border before a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants could begin, a linkage Obama hasn't embraced.
The senators discussed border security with Obama and said they were encouraged by what they heard, though it was unclear if they'd extracted any commitments.
"He understands we need border security that we can afford and Sen. McCain made a strong point about the border, and the president understands the working components of it, so I was, quite frankly, encouraged," Graham said.
McCain, who often speaks of problems along the border in his home state of Arizona, said he was "more confident after our conversation today" that Obama understands those issues.