Mitt Romney has a more nuanced immigration stance these days.
Call it WWRD, an abbreviation for What Would Rubio Do?
That was the case this weekend after President Obama made an election-year executive order that allows hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to remain and work in the United States for two years without the threat of deportation.
Romney’s initial reaction?
Then came Florida’s Marco Rubio, the only Hispanic Republican in the U.S. Senate and a vice-presidential shortlister for Romney.
“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem,” Rubio said shortly after Obama’s announcement.
Rubio also criticized Obama for “ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress” because the executive order essentially amounts to lawmaking by the executive branch of government.
After that, Romney got the memo.
As liberals and some conservatives started howling about his deafening silence, Romney stepped off his tour bus in New Hampshire and fretted about how Obama’s plan wasn’t a “long-term” solution.
“I’d like to see legislation that deals with this issue,” he said. “And I happen to agree with Marco Rubio, as he will consider this issue. He said this is an important matter. We have to find a long-term solution. But the president’s action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult.”
That’s true to a degree. But what’s even more true is that the party of Rubio and Romney stands much more in the way of immigration legislation these days.
In 2006 Republicans revolted against the comprehensive immigration plan pushed by then-President Bush, Sen. John McCain and Rubio’s Florida predecessor, Sen. Mel Martinez. Republicans have repeatedly blocked and opposed the follow-up immigration proposal, called the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young college- and military-bound immigrants who were brought or remain here illegally.
Romney, Rubio and many other Republicans say that bill is too broadly written and allows for too much amnesty. The president’s latest proposal doesn’t provide a citizenship pathway and isn’t permanent.
But if Romney really wants to “see legislation that deals with this issue,” he should ask Rubio, who said he was working on a DREAM Act alternative three months ago. It has yet to appear as a bill.
Behind the scenes in the Senate, corralling Republican votes is tough. Democrats, too, had heartburn about Rubio’s DREAM Act alternative — whatever it is — because it could have stolen Obama’s thunder over the issue.
Obama went first. He had to. The merits of the policy aside, Obama’s political motivations are clear: He needs to drum up Hispanic support.
Romney, winning the non-Hispanic white vote in many polls, doesn’t need to win the Latino vote outright. He just needs to win enough Hispanic votes to keep him competitive in states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
Florida stands out from the other Hispanic-heavy swing states because of the relatively large numbers of Cuban and Puerto Rican voters. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and Cubans have a special immigration status that makes the DREAM Act and the threat of deportation far less relevant when compared to, say, Mexicans, who comprise the bulk of the Latino population out West.