BECKLEY, W.Va., April 25 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute Sunday to 29 men killed in a West Virginia mine while stressing the need for greater mine safety.
"They knew there were risks, and so did their families. They knew their kids would say a prayer at night before they left," the president said at a service for the miners in Beckley, W.Va. "They knew their wives would wait for a call when their shift ended saying everything was OK. They knew their parents felt a pang of fear every time a breaking news alert came on or the radio cut in, but they left for the mines anyway."
Obama praised the fallen miners for "all the hard work, all the hardship, all the time spent underground," saying, "It was all for their families. These miners lived, as they died, in pursuit of the American dream."
The president said he had "seen the strength" of the coal mining community in a flood of letters and e-mails to the White House after the disaster.
"Postmarked from different places, they often begin the same way: 'I am proud to be from a family of miners,' 'I am the son of a coal miner,' 'I am proud to be a coal miner's daughter.' They ask me to keep our miners in my thoughts. Never forget, they say, miners keep America's lights on. Then, they make a simple plea: don't let this happen again."
Vice President Joe Biden, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., also spoke at the service for the miners, killed in the explosion April 5 at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va.
Obama has ordered a federal investigation of the worst U.S. mine disaster in nearly four decades.
GOP pledges to block immigration bill push
WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- Two Republican U.S. senators said Sunday they'll join other GOP lawmakers to block Democrats' efforts to push ahead with immigration reform.
"I just don't think this is the right time to take up this issue, with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border, 10 percent unemployment," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on "Fox News Sunday."
The push for immigration reform by the White House and congressional Democrats comes amid widespread protests and threatened legal challenges over the nation's toughest law targeting illegal immigrants, signed Friday by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on CNN's "State of the Union" other issues pending in Congress must take precedence over immigration reform.
"We've got a lot of work left on our plate between now and the end of the summer, and we're starting on financial regulatory reform," he said.
Calling for tighter border security, Chambliss said, "Until you secure the border, trying to really have an overall reform package on immigration just simply can't be done … . Border states have unique problems when it comes to immigration."
Referring to the Arizona law, he said, "This is one situation where the state of Arizona has decided to take matters into their own hands. And if that's what the people of Arizona want to do, then certainly they have that right."
The law makes failure to have immigration documents a misdemeanor. Law enforcement officers with a "reasonable suspicion" a person is an undocumented immigrant will have the authority to ask about immigration status and arrest people who cannot immediately prove they are in the United States legally.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told CNN Congress could and should deal with financial reform and take on immigration and climate change this session.
Menendez said the Arizona law demonstrates the need for immigration reform.
"It is fundamentally wrong to be a second-class citizen just because you have a certain accent or you look a certain way," he said. "That's what Arizona is pursuing."
Reform would secure the borders and provide a pathway to permanent residence, he said.
Negotiators near deal on financial reform
WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate negotiators say they're nearing a deal on financial reform but Republicans said a bill won't come as soon as Democratic leaders said they had hoped.
"If we keep working together, we'll get a bill," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "It might be this week. It might be next week."
The Senate had been scheduled to vote Monday on whether to proceed to a debate on financial reform. Republicans said they would not vote to move the legislation forward now but Shelby said he was hopeful about prospects for an agreement.
"We're closer than we've ever been," he said.
Shelby and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., also appearing on NBC, said they would keep working Sunday on a deal on financial reform.
"This doesn't end the debate tomorrow. This begins debate," Dodd said. "I hope tomorrow we can get those votes. We may not. But I hope we do, because we need to move forward. Tomorrow, if another (financial) crisis occurred in the country, we're no better off than we were in the fall of 2008."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on "Fox News Sunday" a deal would come, but not by Monday.
"We don't have a bipartisan compromise yet," he said, "but I think there's a good chance that we're going to get it."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a negotiator on the reform bill, said on ABC's "This Week" Republicans would withhold support until they reached agreement with Democrats on key issues.
"We don't need to address every issue in this compromise," he said, while stressing the need for oversight of derivatives, more consumer protection and "orderly liquidation" of failing banks.
"If we can get that template agreed to in a bipartisan way, then we can debate some of the amendments," including his, he said. "But I think it's very, very important that we reach that bipartisan agreement first because in the Senate, as you know, it takes 60 votes to change anything."
Many Republicans have complained Democratic reform proposals would allow future bailouts by the federal government. Democrats note their proposed legislation specifically prohibits bailouts.
President Barack Obama said Saturday the auto industry bailout has paid off and called for approval of financial reform bill to prevent more bailouts. Unless Congress approves Democrats' financial reform legislation, the president said, the country will be at risk of another economic meltdown and further government bailouts.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on ABC, suggested big banks want to delay financial reform legislation to death.
"Some Wall Street people have said the longer they can delay this, the more chance they can kill it," Brown said.
Lawrence Summers, the director of the White House's National Economic Council, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Democrats and Republican seek many of the same elements of financial reform.
"If you look at the things the experts have cited as causes (of the economic downturn) ... they are all addressed by this bill," Summers said.
The Senate bill -- the House has already passed its version -- would overhaul Wall Street regulation and establish a new consumer protection agency overseeing and enforcing lending rules to prevent unfair practices by banks and credit card companies.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told CNN Sunday the financial regulatory system "didn't work so good for our country," leading to the recession.
"Our system as a whole is not going to just be more stable (after reform)," he said, "but I think our institutions are going to be much stronger.
"The basic strategy that guides reform, and it's guided our response to the crisis, is you bring more transparency, bring more disclosure, you force more capital into the system earlier, and you make sure you put in place basic things that make markets work better," Geithner said.
Obama, Billy Graham meet, pray together
MONTREAT, N.C., April 25 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama prayed Sunday with the Rev. Billy Graham at the 91-year-old evangelist's mountaintop home in North Carolina, the White House said.
Obama, concluding a North Carolina vacation, spent about 30 minutes at the log cabin, during which he spoke and prayed privately with Graham.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said Graham was "an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades."
"He's a real treasure for our country," Burton said. "The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."
Obama spoke on the phone with Graham to wish him a happy birthday in November but had never met him, Burton said.
Obama is the first sitting president to visit Graham at his home in Montreat, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported, citing a Graham spokesman.
Richard Nixon visited as vice president but not as president. In May 2007, three former presidents -- Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- came to Charlotte for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library.
Though retired, Graham remains one of the most admired Americans, Gallup polls indicate.
Obama also met Sunday with Graham's son Franklin, an evangelist.
The U.S. Army last week canceled Franklin Graham's scheduled Pentagon speech after a military advocacy group objected to his reported d derogatory remarks about Islam.