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Immigration reform: Why many GOP lawmakers applauded Obama speech

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“He is in a difficult spot,” says Rep. John Yarmouth (D) of Kentucky, who is part of a House group working on bipartisan immigration legislation. “It can’t be seen as an Obama plan, or Republicans won’t vote for it. I think he rightly said there are two bipartisan groups working on it, two bipartisan groups are going to advance plans and we should have a vote on that. And I think that’s the only way it can possibly become reality is that if it’s always perceived in both chambers as a bipartisan plan.”

But lying low cannot be easy for a president who promised immigration reform to the nation's Latino and Asian voters, who overwhelmingly backed Obama's reelection in November. Indeed, five undocumented immigrants were in the audience Tuesday night.

“It’s a Catch-22 for him,” Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, a leading Republican advocate in the House for immigration reform, said Tuesday night just outside the House chamber. “If he talks too much about it, then it looks like he’s pushing his agenda down our throat. And if he doesn’t talk enough, then he gets criticized for that.”

Many Republicans said Obama had handled the immigration issue deftly.

“I thought on comprehensive immigration reform, I thought his words were measured," Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, House Budget Committee chairman and a longtime supporter of immigration issues, told CNN. "I think the tone and the words he took were productive on that front.”

Representative Labrador, meanwhile, went on to suggest a way forward on the contentious matter of whether undocumented immigrants can ever become US citizens.

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