Congressional Republicans on Sunday accused the White House of poisoning the well on immigration reform by leaking a draft proposal while senators from both parties are working toward a compromise on the issue, saying the move shows President Obama is more concerned with scoring political points than passing legislation.
Mr. Obama has said that comprehensive immigration reform will be a top priority for his second term, but GOP senators blasted the draft as counterproductive and an attempt to use the issue as a political cudgel.
“This is the president torpedoing his own plan. It shows me that he’s really not serious,” Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There are many people who think Democrats bring up these ideas as wedge issues, they don’t really ever want to pass them because then they would no longer have the Republicans to blame.”
The proposal, first reported by USA Today, would create a new visa program for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and create a path for them to become legal permanent residents within eight years.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, issued a scathing statement within hours of the report, calling the plan “dead on arrival,” “half-baked,” “seriously flawed,” and “disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution.”
“It would actually make our immigration problems worse, and would further undermine the American people’s confidence in Washington’s ability to enforce our immigration laws and reform our broken immigration system,” said Mr. Rubio, one of eight senators working to craft a bipartisan plan on the issue.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough played down the report Sunday, stressing that they have not proposed anything to Capitol Hill and are simply standing ready with ideas should efforts in Congress stall.
“[W]e’re going to continue to work with Sen. Rubio and others on this,” Mr. McDonough said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But he says it’s dead on arrival if it’s proposed. 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 the good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to. And that’s exactly what we intend to do is work with them.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and one of the eight involved in the negotiations, said they have talked to Mr. Rubio and he’s “on board with our process.”
“And you know, it’s obvious, 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,” Mr. Schumer said. “But the only way we’re going to get something done is with a bipartisan agreement. So I’m happy with the president. He’s given us the space, and I’m optimistic we can get something done.”
Mr. Obama met with the Democratic senators working on the issue — Mr. Schumer, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Michael F. Bennet of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — at the White House last week. Mr. McDonough said staffers have been working with the members’ staffs and the members themselves, but Sen. John McCain said there’s been no communication with Republicans on the issue.
He predicted that if Mr. Obama is the one who proposes legislation, it will fail.
“Of course it will,” the Arizona Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And that’s why we’re working together, Republicans and Democrats — by the way, he’s had no communication with Republicans on the issue, unlike the previous four presidents that I’ve dealt with — and I believe we are making progress on a bipartisan basis. I believe we can come up with a product. Leaks don’t happen in Washington by accident.
“This raises the question 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?” he continued.