Rubio’s office battles White House over immigration bill leak

February 19, 2013

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) denied a charge from fellow Republicans Tuesday that a draft bill written by Obama administration officials on immigration closely resembles the framework Rubio is pursuing with other senators.

In a lengthy statement pressing Rubio's displeasure with the Obama bill, leaked to USA Today on Saturday, the spokesman said staffers had spent several hours dissecting the Obama bill and found that it held "major differences" with the ongoing work of eight senators working on a bill to introduce in March.

"Put simply: The President’s proposal is not a permanent solution; if passed, the US would likely have millions of new illegal immigrants in the future," wrote spokesman Alex Conant. He noted Obama's bill would not tie permanent residency for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants to new border security measures, as the senators have discussed. It also does not include the creation of a guest worker program to let businesses attract temporary immigrant labor in the future, a key priority of many Republicans.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney sought to temper suggestions that the White House’s leaked immigration plan could derail the Senate’s bipartisan efforts, which Carney said Obama fully supports. Carney emphasized that the White House has been in touch with the offices of each of the eight senators, including four Republicans, working on the comprehensive reform plan.

“We have been in contact with everybody involved in this effort on Capitol Hill,” Carney said at his daily briefing.

“Our hopes continue to lie with the bipartisan effort under way in the Senate to achieve comprehensive immigration reform,” he added. “It is by far the president's preference that the Senate process move forward, that the bipartisan Group of Eight have success and that they produce a bill that wins the support of Democrats and Republicans in Senate -- in the Senate, then in the House -- and that it arrives at his desk for his signature.”

Conant then tweeted:

President Obama has said he wants to give the Senate time to come up with a bipartisan product. But he's pledged that if the process drags, he'll submit his own bill to Congress. Last week, the administration circulated a draft of that back-up legislation to agencies -- it leaked over the weekend.

Rubio immediately declared the president's bill, which envisioned allowing illegal immigrants to quickly seek a temporary residency visa and to apply for permanent residency in no longer than eight years, dead on arrival.

And a series of Republicans complained on Sunday news shows that its leak could disrupt the delicate bipartisan talks. Other observers have suggested the leak could bolster the bipartisan effort, by allowing Republicans involved to point to differences between their product and that preferred by Obama.

But Conant dismissed that analysis as a "valiant search for a silver lining."

"The truth is that the White House has injected additional partisanship into an already difficult process, and raised fresh questions about the President’s seriousness about passing reform," he wrote, noting that White House officials have not reached out to Rubio or other Republicans to discuss the process.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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Anne Bartlett · February 19, 2013