Could Obama Endanger Immigration Reform?

On the hill, some legislators want Obama out of the way on immigration.

President Barack Obama points to someone in the crowd as he arrives to speak about immigration at Del Sol High School, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Las Vegas.

President Barack Obama points to someone in the crowd as he arrives to speak about immigration Jan. 29 at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.

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In many ways, the quiet immigration reform negotiations in Congress signal progress.

"Immigration has been for the past couple of decades, a subject matter that leads some people to scream at each other," says California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren. "Sometimes you need ample space to discuss opportunities to talk things out without a public yelling match."

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Since the "gang of eight" unveiled an immigration framework in the Senate calling for a path to citizenship for some of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants, the nation's attention has turned to see what the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would unveil.

A bipartisan working group has been toiling away behind closed doors to find consensus, but their framework remains steeped in secrecy, and if they don't act soon, President Barack Obama could steal their thunder.

The president signaled in his State of the Union address that he would not wait long for Congress to construct a bill. And Saturday USA Today obtained a leaked framework of the Obama administration's own immigration bill, a sign the president is prepared to step in and move quickly to pass sweeping legislation if Congress fumbles.

Some lawmakers warn though any overreach from the White House could poison the well for Republicans and Democrats working out of the spotlight to find a bipartisan solution to immigration reform.

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"He said he will sign a bill and frankly that is all we need," says Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. "We are moving forward [in the House] and there is a lot of work getting done. The president has not proven to be very effective negotiating with the House and the Senate in the past."

The president's move could jeopardize the progress Congress has made in recent weeks, experts say.

"He needs to be on the sidelines," says Brad Bailey, chairman of Texas Immigration Solution, a group that works closely with conservative members of Congress to address immigration reform. "Executive orders in the 12th hour of the campaign makes things more political. Give Congress some time and let them get to work."

Bailey says the president could unravel fragile negotiations happening behind the scenes on Capitol Hill if he forces his own bill through Congress too soon.

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"It makes blood boil in Republican circles," Bailey says adding that Democrats who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into legislation would also be irritated by a presidential power grab. .

Democrats say publicly, however, that they welcome the president's ideas and are happy for him to come and sit down at the negotiating table.

"He knows what it takes to fix the broken immigration system," California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra said during a press conference with reporters on the hill last week. "He is ready to move forward if we are not. They are giving Congress time to work its will to move this, but I don't think he is going to wait too long."

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Becerra says Republicans who want the president to stay away from immigration reform are hypocritical.

"I have heard too many of my Republican colleagues say the president needs to engage, the president needs to lead," Becerra says. "It would be tough for me now to believe that the Republicans would say 'Mr. President, stay away.'"

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