WASHINGTON -- Prospects for comprehensive immigration legislation this year grew murkier on the eve of an all-out push by a coalition of business, religious and law enforcement to persuade the House to overhaul the decades-old system.
Proponents seized on two developments as a Senate-passed measure remains stalled in the House -- President Barack Obama's meeting at the White House today with a House Republican working on legislation and a California GOP lawmaker's willingness to back a House Democratic plan.
But in a blow to their effort, Sen. Marco Rubio signaled support for the piecemeal approach in the House despite his months of work and vote for the comprehensive Senate bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally and tighten border security.
The Florida Republican -- son of Cuban immigrants and a potential presidential candidate in 2016 -- had provided crucial support for the bipartisan Senate bill.
"Sen. Rubio has always preferred solving immigration reform with piecemeal legislation. The Senate opted to pursue a comprehensive bill, and he joined that effort because he wanted to influence the policy that passed the Senate," Mr. Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conant, said Monday in explaining Mr. Rubio's backing for limited measures.
Since 68 Democrats and Republicans joined together to pass the Senate bill in June, opponents and many conservatives have stepped up their pressure against any immigration legislation, based not only on their principle opposition but their unwillingness to deliver on Mr. Obama's top second-term domestic agenda issue.
The recent budget fight only inflamed conservative GOP feelings toward Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama on Monday reiterated his call for Congress to complete action on an immigration overhaul before the end of the year. He said that represented the only way to end the record deportations of immigrants undertaken by his administration, actions he has tried to curtail by allowing young people who immigrated illegally into the United States -- so-called Dreamers -- to remain in the country under certain conditions.
"That's why my top priority has been let's make sure that we comprehensively reform the whole system so that we're not just dealing with Dreamers, we're also dealing with anybody who's here and is undocumented," he said in an interview with Fusion, a cable channel that is a collaboration of ABC News and Univision.
Most House Republicans reject a comprehensive approach and many question offering citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country. The House Judiciary Committee has moved forward with individual, single-issue immigration bills.
Although House Republican leaders say they want to solve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file House Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with it. With just a few legislative weeks left in the House, it's unclear whether lawmakers will vote on any measure before the year is out.
Among the exceptions are Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Darrell Issa of California, who have been working on possible legislation.