A copy of the White House’s draft immigration proposal, leaked as a warning shot to Congress to get its act together, was swiftly and fiercely rejected by a Republican central to the negotiations. Other key Republicans echoed him. The White House responded on Sunday.
In a statement Saturday after President Obama’s draft bill was leaked to USA Today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) dubbed the proposal “half-baked and seriously flawed,” saying it would exacerbate the country’s immigration problems. He promised it would be “dead on arrival” in Congress.
“It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress,” Rubio said. “President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution. The President’s bill repeats the failures of past legislation. It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally, and does nothing to address guest workers or future flow, which serious immigration experts agree is critical to preventing future influxes of illegal immigrants.”
Appearing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough made clear that the proposal was designed to force Congress to get its act together.
“He says it’s dead on arrival if it’s proposed?” McDonough said. “Well, let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed. Let’s make sure that that group up there, the gang of eight, makes good progress on these efforts, as much as they say they want to, and that’s exactly what we intend to do, to work with them.”
He declined to get into a back-and-forth or “political scrum” with Rubio.
According to USA Today, the leaked proposal creates a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to legal permanent residency within eight years if they pass a background check, pay a fine and back taxes, learn English and wait in line. It expands security funding and requires business owners to check the legal status of new employees. But it omits any provisions involving future flow of immigration.
For Obama, the draft legislation aims to strike a delicate balance in the extraordinarily complicated politics of immigration reform. It seeks to prove his active involvement in the debate while giving Congress enough room to negotiate the details on its own.
Rubio has his own delicate balance to strike when it comes to holding together the conservative coalition for reform. His statement served as a clear signal that if the White House gets ahead of Congress, the effort would collapse and Republicans would blame Obama.
“If actually proposed,” he said, “the President’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed that if Obama proposes a bill, it will “of course” fail.
“By the way, he’s had no communication with Republicans on the issue, unlike the previous four presidents that I have dealt with,” McCain said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “Leaks don’t happen in Washington by accident. This raises the question that many of us continue to wonder about: does the president really want a result or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has supported the push for immigration reform, also appeared on “This Week” and said the White House’s move damages the prospects for achieving a solution. He argued the leaked proposal does not address key issues and signals that Obama wants a “partisan advantage” and not a “bipartisan solution.”
“There are groups in the House and the Senate working together to get this done,” Ryan said, “and when he does things like this, it makes it much more difficult to do that. And that’s why I think this particular move — very counterproductive.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a key Democrat in immigration discussions, said he was not upset by the White House leak but said any resolution will have to be bipartisan.
“It’s obvious that if a Democrat — the president or anyone else — puts out what they want on their own, it’s going to be different than when you have a bipartisan agreement,” Schumer said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But the only way we’re going to get something done is with a bipartisan agreement.”
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.