By Michael Bowman
A push for U.S. immigration reform and Senate action on President Barack Obama’s cabinet picks highlight what promises to be a busy week in U.S. politics.
President Obama travels Tuesday to Las Vegas, Nevada to rally public support for reforming America’s oft-criticized immigration system. Nevada is one of many states with a substantial Hispanic population that overwhelmingly backed Obama’s re-election last year.
The president restated his commitment to immigration reform in his inaugural address last week.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country,” he said.
U.S. lawmakers are working to forge a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to legalization for millions of foreign nationals who entered the United States illegally, and, at the same time, strengthen U.S. border security.
Senator John McCain said, “We can not go on forever with 11-million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were born here – who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows, as well. So I think the time is right.”
Also, this week, the Senate is expected to vote overwhelmingly to confirm one of its own – Democratic Senator John Kerry – as America’s top diplomat. Kerry would succeed departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
And, the Senate will begin formal consideration of a more-controversial Cabinet pick: President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot,” President Obama said.
Hagel’s nomination has been criticized by Republican lawmakers who question his commitment to Israel’s security. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “This is an ‘in-your-face’ [brazenly provocative] nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”
An eventual Senate vote to confirm or reject Hagel’s nomination could test new Senate rules designed to reduce political gridlock in the chamber. Last week, the Senate voted to limit the ability of individual members to filibuster – a procedural maneuver to block consideration of a bill or presidential nominee.
Senator Ben Cardin expressed hope for a more functional and harmonious chamber. “It gives us the opportunity to work together in more confidence, beyond just the rules, but also dealing with the difficult issues this country faces,” he said.
Those issues include America’s runaway national debt and looming across-the-board spending cuts that will automatically take effect absent a deficit reduction agreement.