Political Notebook

Obama puts immigration reform on docket

Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk will be the nation's top trade official. Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk will be the nation's top trade official.
March 19, 2009
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On his very full plate, immigration was one issue that President Obama had yet to take on - until yesterday, when he discussed it with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

At a town hall meeting in southern California yesterday, Obama renewed his support for comprehensive reform, including a possible path to citizenship for law-abiding people who entered the country illegally, along the lines of the bill that stalled in Congress in 2007.

According to the White House account of yesterday's one-hour closed session, it was "a robust and strategic meeting" in which Obama announced he will go to Mexico next month to meet President Calderón and discuss, among other issues, effective, comprehensive immigration reform.

After the meeting, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, chairman of the Hispanic caucus's immigration task force, and advocacy groups said they were hopeful that Obama would address immigration reform this year.

"Although it is very early in his administration, he understands that for the immigrant community it's the 11th hour, and there is no time to waste," Gutierrez said in a statement.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, added, "While we agree that our priority should be fixing the nation's economy, we also believe that we can initiate an immigration reform that will help us achieve long-term economic growth."


White House scraps plan to bill veterans' insurers
The White House announced late yesterday that it has dropped a proposal - strongly objected to by veterans groups - to bill veterans' private insurance for treatment of service-related injuries and disabilities.

The proposal was designed to generate more than $540 million a year for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but opponents said it broke faith with service members who risked their lives and argued that it threatened to use up insurance benefits that their families also use. The groups' leaders had angrily criticized the administration after meeting with Obama and top aides Monday.

The White House said that the president, after hearing concerns that the proposal "might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families' ability to access healthcare," has "instructed that its consideration be dropped."


Senate confirms Kirk as trade representative
WASHINGTON - Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won Senate confirmation yesterday to be the nation's top trade official with responsibilities for advancing free trade at a time when many Americans see foreign competition as a threat to their livelihoods.

The Senate voted, 92-5, to confirm Kirk as US trade representative, setting aside a tax problem revealed after he was nominated and concerns raised by some Republicans that the Obama administration was putting the country on a path to protectionism.

Kirk, at his confirmation hearing, said he would try to help American workers hit by the negative aspects of trade and would put more effort into ensuring that trade partners aren't violating existing agreements on open trade. That would signal a shift from the Bush administration, which championed the benefits of free trade.


Biden unveils meals plan as part of stimulus effort
Vice President Biden announced yesterday that states will receive $100 million in stimulus money to feed low-income older Americans. The funding is expected to provide nearly 14 million meals nationwide, the White House said.

The stimulus package provides $65 million for meals at senior centers and other community sites, $32 million for home delivered meals, and $3 million for Native American nutrition programs. The offices of Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts said that the Bay State will get $2.1 million, $1.4 million for nutrition programs at senior centers and $700,000 for home-delivered nutrition programs.

"Communities and aging services across the state are facing a surge in the need for these services because of the economic crisis," Kennedy said. GLOBE STAFF

Local environmentalist nominated for EPA post
President Obama yesterday nominated a New England environmentalist to be a top regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

He announced his selection of Cynthia J. Giles as assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance at the EPA. She is vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Rhode Island advocacy center, where she has focused on climate change. From 2001 to 2005, she headed the Bureau of Resource Protection at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.


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