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Obama says Immigration leak won't hurt reform talks

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about strengthening the economy for the middle class and measures to combat gun violence during a visit t
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about strengthening the economy for the middle class and measures to combat gun violence during a visit t

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama denied on Wednesday that the leak of a backup immigration bill being drafted by the White House would hurt Senate negotiations on immigration reform and he confidently predicted Congress would pass legislation.

Republicans involved in a bipartisan Senate group working on an immigration overhaul package responded with criticism when details of the administration's plan surfaced in weekend news reports, despite Obama's promise to withhold his legislative proposals while lawmakers crafted their own.

"It certainly didn't jeopardize the entire process. The negotiations are still moving forward," Obama told San Antonio's KWEX television station, an affiliate of the Spanish-language network Univision, in an interview at the White House. He dismissed such news leaks as a common occurrence in Washington.

However, Obama reiterated a warning that he would be prepared to submit his own immigration bill if efforts in Congress fail.

Seeking to ease tensions with Republicans, Obama on Tuesday reached out directly to three U.S. senators - Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham - part of a "Gang of Eight" Republicans and Democrats working on an immigration deal.

The White House, meanwhile, denied it had intentionally leaked its own "Plan B" for revamping U.S. immigration laws.

Obama emphasized in last week's State of the Union address the importance of creating a clear path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally.

Many Republicans stress there must first be measurable progress in securing U.S. borders, a condition hard for the president to accept if it drags out the legalization process.

The White House, however, is counting on Republicans feeling pressure to move swiftly on immigration reform after they were chastened by Latino voters' rejection in the November election.

Obama, asked in the Univision interview about record deportations during his tenure, did not offer any prospect for curbing such efforts.

"What I can promise is that we are going to get comprehensive immigration reform, but my job is to carry out the laws that are already in place," Obama said.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick)

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