President Obama reached out to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and other Republicans working on immigration reform on Tuesday, looking to bury the hatchet after a spat over a leaked White House bill.
In addition to Rubio, Obama called Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ), and tried unsuccessfully to reach Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who was traveling. All four are members of a bipartisan Senate group, dubbed the “Gang of 8,” who are working on a comprehensive immigration reform.
According to a statement from the White House describing the substance of the call, Obama thanked them for their work and his “hopes that they can produce a bill as soon as possible that reflects shared core principles on reform.” Obama added that he “believes commonsense reform needs to include strengthening border security, creating an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable, and streamlining legal immigration,” listing a series of broad planks that both he and the Senate group have endorsed as the basis for a reform bill.
The statement came amid an ongoing tiff with Senate Republicans — especially Rubio — over a leaked partial draft of the White House’s own immigration bill. Administration officials have said the leak was unauthorized and that they plan to release their own legislation only if Congress fails to pass a bill themselves, a fact that Obama reiterated in his calls with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday. But Rubio declared Obama’s bill “dead on arrival” on Saturday while McCain complained on Sunday that the White House’s competing plan made negotiations more difficult.
In recent days, Rubio repeatedly condemned Obama’s bill even as it hewed towards policy goals that the Florida senator had largely endorsed himself. His office also complained about a lack of engagement from the White House, a claim that the administration rebutted by noting that it had held several meetings with Gang of 8 aides, including Rubio’s staff.
If Tuesday’s calls were a sign that Obama feared things were getting out of hand between he and Rubio, his courtesy call seemed to have the intended calming effect. Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, relayed a conciliatory message from his boss afterwards that suggested he was optimistic about reaching a deal.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.