Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Thursday that President Obama's unilateral decision to stop deporting young illegal immigrants has further politicized an already emotionally charged issue and short-circuited bipartisan efforts to find a long-term solution.
Mr. Rubio, the GOP's most prominent Hispanic lawmaker and now its de facto leader on immigration, expressed frustration that the Obama administration did not reach out to him or anybody else on his side of the aisle before directing U.S. Homeland Secretary Janet A. Napolitano to no longer deport illegal immigrants up to 30 years of age who came here as children.
"I think he injected election-year politics into an issue that, privately, I think we were making progress on," Mr. Rubio told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, just blocks from the White House. The freshman lawmaker and rising GOP star said it's clear that Mr. Obama was more interested in winning "a talking point" than in pursuing a bipartisan solution — and that he was very "naive" to hope otherwise.
Before the president's announcement on Friday, Mr. Rubio had been working on his own version of the so-called Dream Act, which would have given some children of illegal immigrants the chance to gain some sort of legal status.
The push earned Mr. Rubio a slew of news headlines, and he had planned to offer up a bill sometime this summer. Those plans, though, changed last week after Mr. Obama ordered a halt to deportations of an estimated 800,000 young people here illegally while he works on a longer-term solution — sparking an uproar from some Republicans who said he was sidestepping Congress, which is responsible for laws governing citizenship.
"This White House didn't reach out to anybody," Mr. Rubio said. "If you are really serious about finding a solution to this problem, don't you work with the people who are interested in this? If you are really interested in a bipartisan solution, and you read in the newspaper that there is a Republican senator working on an idea, don't you reach out to them and say, 'How does your idea work? I'm just curious.' That never happened."
Asked about Mr. Rubio's remarks at the daily press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the issue of what to do with illegal immigrants brought here though no fault of their own had been stalled out in Congress — the last real action coming during the 2010 lame-duck session when a GOP-led filibuster killed a broadly written version of the Dream Act pushed by Democrats.
"Now, if there is a change of view, this president would welcome that and hopes that Congress will act, because the announcement made Friday is not, by any means, a permanent fix to this problem," Mr. Carney said.
"Broadly speaking," he said, the president has reached out to members of Congress. But he also pointed out that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's pledge in the party's primary to veto the Dream Act does not bode well for a bipartisan breakthrough.
During the Republican primaries, Mr. Romney staked out one of the most hard-line positions on illegal immigration and embraced the notion of "self-deportation" as a way to reduce illegal immigration. Polls now show he now trails Mr. Obama by a wide margin among Hispanic voters.
Since effectively wrapping up the nomination in late April, Mr. Romney has softened his tone — though six days after Mr. Obama halted the deportations, Mr. Romney still refuses to say whether he would reverse the order.
Mr. Rubio, who refused to address speculation that he is being considered a possible running mate for Mr. Romney, defended the former Massachusetts governor, saying that he has been smart to emphasize that Republicans are pro-legal immigration, not anti-immigrant.
"I think what you are seeing are indications of a very mature and serious political leader," he said. "This is not an issue that is easily solved in campaign talking points and bumper-sticker language."
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