President Obama signaled Tuesday that he is open to compromise on immigration reform, saying he is not "hell-bent" on getting everything from the Senate immigration bill into the version that finally hits his desk.
But Obama said the measure that finally passes must hew to some "core principles," including some sort of "pathway to citizenship" for immigrants in the country illegally, a point of contention in the debate.
In remarks to law enforcement officers visiting the White House, Obama argued that comprehensive immigration reform would make their work easier because it would undermine criminal enterprises and help police focus on their jobs.
The remarks come as the Obama administration presses forward with a full review of its deportation practices, with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson charged with making sure they're "humane."
Even as the agency tries to clean up the current practices, though, senior advisors to the president say they aren't planning to make major changes through the use of his administrative powers. Rather, they say, the president plans to keep pressing House Republicans to either pass the Senate bill or to come up with something acceptable in its stead.
On Monday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told business leaders in Texas that he is working with his colleagues to "bring them along" on immigration reform. The same day, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said immigration reform is crucial for the Republican Party and its prospects of winning the White House.
If they don't pass something, Chamber President Tom Donohue said, "they shouldn't bother to run a candidate in 2016."
In his remarks on Tuesday, Obama said reform advocates have public opinion on their side, and suggested that more and more Republican opinion leaders are coming to the conclusion that some kind of reform is necessary.
"The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here," Obama said. "So we've got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives."
Police, business leaders and evangelical Christians will be crucial to passing a reform measure, Obama said.
"We're not hell-bent on making sure that every letter of what's in the Senate bill is exactly what ultimately lands on my desk for a signature, but there's some core principles that we have got to get done," Obama said.
In addition to improving border security and legal processes, he said, "we've got to make sure that there's a way for people to earn some pathway to citizenship."