Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is angling to blame President Obama for the looming failure of his watered-down DREAM Act, and the White House is strongly objecting to that implication, insisting that Rubio’s problem is with his own party, not the president.
“The notion that somehow the president or Democrats would be the roadblock to any progress on immigration is ridiculous,” a White House official told TPM. “If this proposal fails, the reason will be the Republicans.”
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied Rubio’s charge that the White House has been “actively trying to torpedo my efforts” on a compromise DREAM Act, as Roll Call reported. The aide said the White House would need to see an actual proposal before weighing in.
“We can’t speculate on what may or may not be in the proposal. There is no proposal,” the official said. “So there’s nothing that we can be trying to torpedo.”
Rubio’s spokesman, reached by TPM, pointed to two articles about the senator’s efforts but declined to elaborate on evidence that the White House is working against him. Rubio says his bill will offer legal residency with no promise of citizenship for some undocumented immigrants raised in the U.S. His accusation underscores the delicate politics of immigration for Republicans, and hints that Rubio’s primary aim is to help his party save face with a critical demographic without angering conservatives.
Hispanic voters are disappointed with President Obama for failing to overhaul immigration, but they prefer him by a wide margin to Republicans, who have actively thwarted Democrats’ efforts — including by filibustering the Democrats’ DREAM Act in 2010 — amid fierce conservative opposition to any form of “amnesty.” And as House Speaker John Boehner signaled last Thursday, even Rubio’s watered-down DREAM alternative is all but certain to fail in Congress.
In that case, the only upshot for Rubio and his party — including likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has signaled he supports Rubio’s efforts — is to blame Obama once the proposal goes down, and to try to persuade at least some Hispanics that Republicans supported a compromise but the president stood in their way.
The tough politics are also evident in the fact that Rubio has emphasized different aspects of his plan to different audiences. During interviews on English-language media, for instance, he has emphasized that his proposal does not include citizenship; while appearing on the Spanish-language La Opinion, he played up the fact that it opens up possible “access to citizenship.”
The White House says when it comes to the DREAM Act, Obama prefers the Democrats’ version, but would look at any serious proposal.
“The president is ready to work with any serious partners,” the official told TPM, leaving the door open to “stop-gap legislation” that allows certain undocumented immigrants to remain in the country while Congress works on comprehensive reform. “As the president has said, he’s looking for a dance partner but the floor is still empty.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.