Schumer to GOP: Set immigration law to kick in after Obama leaves office

February 9, 2014

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday floated the idea of enacting an immigration reform law that doesn't kick in until after President Obama leaves office in order to address Republican doubts about Obama's willingness to enforce laws.

"There's a simple solution: Let's enact the law this year but simply not let it actually start until 2017, after President Obama's term is over," Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected Schumer's idea saying it wold remove the impetus for Obama to enforce immigration laws during his remaining time in office.

"The suggestion is entirely impractical, since it would totally eliminate the President's incentive to enforce immigration law for the remainder of his term," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Boehner appeared to put the brakes on immigration reform last week after signaling the House intended to pursue reform a week earlier. Boehner cited "widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Obama's State of the Union address stoked concerns among Republicans. In his speech, Obama vowed to rely more heavily on executive powers where Congress doesn't act.

"I think nationwide, [immigration reform is] something the Republican Party should do. But when you take it district by district, it's hard to get a majority of Republicans to sign on to it," King said on CBS's "Face The Nation." "John Boehner wanted to make every effort to do it. I think Paul Ryan did. Certainly the national leadership would like it done. But then the president's State of the Union didn't help matters."

On the same program, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) offered a similar appraisal.

"There is a big trust deficit right now, which you can understand," Ayotte said. "I mean, when you do big things poorly like this administration has done with Obamacare, you can understand with a complex issue like immigration reform that there's a lot of lack of trust among House Republicans and other Republicans."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the upper chamber's second-ranking Democrat, said that Republicans are looking for any excuse to oppose Obama.

"Today the excuse is the State of the Union address. But when it comes to the opposition to the president, any excuse will do," he said on "Face The Nation."

Schumer, who was part of a bipartisan group that wrote a Senate immigration bill that has stalled in the House, rejected the idea that Obama would not enforce laws. But he said that if Republicans are concerned, there's a solution.

"Let's say to our Republican colleagues, 'You don't trust Obama? Enact the law now, but put it into effect in 2017 and we can get something real done for America,'" Schumer said. He rejected the notion that immigration reform can get done in 2015 or 2016, citing the political considerations of the Republican presidential primary as a complicating factor.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close Boehner ally, said Sunday that the prospect of step-by-step progress on immigration is still possible. But speaking on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Cole acknowledged, "there are a lot of divisions on the issue."

In particular, conservatives have voiced concerns about creating a path to legal status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The Senate bill contains a path to citizenship and Obama supports one. There's also concern on the right about implementing adequate border security measures.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Schumer's idea to delay the law could win over some Republicans.

"I think some Republicans would be interested in that if we put in place the enforcement measures so it would work," Portman said on "Meet The Press."

Updated at 12:05 p.m.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · February 9, 2014