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Amid healthcare woes, Obama to discuss immigration reform on Thursday

U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Oval Office at the White House in Wa
U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Oval Office at the White House in Wa

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the White House struggles to fix the problem-plagued rollout of its healthcare reform law, President Barack Obama on Thursday will try to focus attention on another policy priority - immigration reform - with a call for congressional action.

The president, who listed immigration as one of three priorities for this year after the 16-day government shutdown concluded, will make a statement at 10:35 a.m. (1435 GMT) at the White House urging lawmakers to finish work on measures to strengthen U.S. borders and provide a pathway toward citizenship for millions of people who are in the United States illegally.

"The president has made clear the key principles that must be a part of any bipartisan, commonsense effort, including continuing to strengthen border security, creating an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable and bringing our immigration system into the 21st century," a White House official said on Wednesday.

"He will urge that Congress take up this issue in a bipartisan way."

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a broad immigration reform bill earlier this year, but the issue has languished in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives

The push for reform was drowned out in recent months by budget controversies and Obama's healthcare law. Republicans triggered the government shutdown in an effort to defund or delay implementation of the law.

Since the shutdown ended, however, the law known as Obamacare has dominated headlines because of its glitch-filled centerpiece website, healthcare.gov. Obama pledged on Monday that the problems would be fixed, but the issue has become a headache for him and his administration when it was supposed to be his crowning domestic policy achievement.

Talking about immigration reform on Thursday could be an effort to deflect attention from the White House's healthcare woes. An aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, however, said the issue would not be taken up as one big bill like the Senate version that Obama supports.

Republicans were "still committed to a step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence we did it the right way, rather than one big Obamacare size bill that no one understands," the aide said, adding a jab at the healthcare law.

The White House official said Obama would be joined on stage and in the audience on Thursday by immigration reform supporters.

"Commonsense immigration is good for the country and it's the right thing to do," he said. "It will grow the economy, reduce the deficit, and has broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, as well as law enforcement and faith leaders."

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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