House Speaker John Boehner did not budge on Sunday when pressed about whether a comprehensive immigration bill should include a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, declaring that the debate is "not about me." His comments come as proponents, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called for increased efforts to convince House Republicans, who say the meausre amounts to "amnesty," to back the legislation.
Boehner, appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, thwarted repeated attempts to get him to spell out his personal views on a path to citizenship for up to 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States, a major point of contention between the House and the Democratic-led Senate.
"It's not about me, it's not about what I want," said Boehner (R-Ohio). "This about allowing the House to work its will."
The Senate last month passed a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill by a 68-32 margin that included a pathway to citizenship, which Republican opponents have called an "amnesty" that would reward lawbreakers and attract more undocumented immigrants.
Boehner said taking a personal stand on the issue would make it harder for him to find consensus on immigration in the House.
"If I come out and say, 'I'm for this and I'm for that,' all I'm doing is making my job harder," Boehner said. "My job in this process is to facilitate a discussion and to facilitate a process."
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain said last week that he and fellow supporters of immigration reform "are not winning," adding that they needed to boost efforts at convincing the GOP-controlled House to pass such a bill.
But House Republican leaders have refused to even bring it up. Backers are now hoping that the House simply passes a limited bill. That would trigger a House-Senate conference where negotiators could try to combine the two measures into a single new piece of legislation.
"There are many members of the House who don't want to take up any bill at all," said McCain.
Boehner said on Sunday that the sweeping Senate bill would not pass the House and reiterated that the House would tackle the issue in smaller "chunks" that would include stricter provisions on border protection.
Proponents of the Senate bill, including businesses, churches and labor groups, will aggressively campaign in congressional districts next months to push for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, McCain said.
"We are not winning," the Arizona Republican told reporters. "So we have to wage a campaign. That doesn't mean a negative campaign. It means a positive campaign."
More than 90 Catholic college presidents sent letters to all Catholic House members, including Boehner, urging them to support a comprehensive immigration bill.
McCain and two fellow co-authors of the Senate bill, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, recently met with tech giants, including Google, Intel and Microsoft, to discuss the campaign for immigration reform, aides said.
They plan to target more than 100 House Republicans who are seen as at least open to the possibility of voting for immigration reform, which would help provide business with needed high- and low-skilled workers, aides said.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, another co-author of the Senate bill, said even though Congress will be on recess in August, it will be a pivotal month for immigration reform.
"We need the entire universe of people who care about immigration reform to be active next month," Menendez said. "If we do that, we will be well positioned for the fall in the House. If we don't, we will run a risk."
Al Jazeera and wire services