WASHINGTON -- In the week since President Barack Obama announced a plan that would allow some young undocumented immigrants to stay in this country, Republicans have struggled to embrace any version of immigration reform.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has fumbled when asked how he would handle such undocumented youths if he were elected president. And Sen. Marco Rubio, who began talking about his own immigration plan for young people this spring but never had a bill in writing, peevishly told national news outlets that the president should have called him.
Obama took an idea similar to his, Rubio said, implemented it through the executive branch, “and now it’s the greatest idea in the world,” the Florida senator complained Friday in Orlando in a speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a day after Romney spoke to the gathering, and just before Obama himself took the stage.
“I don’t care who gets the credit,” Rubio said. “I don’t. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics for some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans, too.”
Obama and many Democrats say that Republicans have had — and still have — plenty of opportunities to contribute, and are directly responsible for the current state of immigration politics. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, last week accused Republicans, in particular Rubio, of expressing “phony outrage” over the administration’s policy. The administration’s directive allows young undocumented immigrants who were raised in the United States to remain for two years under a deferred deportation.
“Leading Republican voices on immigration have yet to actually disagree with the decision,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The complaints are varied, but they have one thing in common: None of them actually take issue with the substance of President Obama’s directive.”
Republicans could have supported the DREAM Act in 2010, Reid said, when it came up for two votes in the Senate and failed to get the 60 votes needed to proceed to a full vote. And Rubio, Democrats note, could have expressed support for it on the campaign trail, sending a signal to fellow Republicans that the idea had backing from a leading Hispanic political figure. Republicans, for their part, have pointed out that even with Democratic majorities in the Senate and House through 2010, Obama failed at one of his most sweeping campaign pledges: comprehensive immigration reform.
Obama was talking about Romney on Friday, but his message to the NALEO gathering applied to Rubio, too. Six years ago, Obama said, Republican Sen. John McCain, Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy and President George Bush came together to champion comprehensive immigration reform.
“So to those who are saying Congress should be the one to fix this, absolutely. For those who say we should do this in a bipartisan fashion, absolutely,” Obama said. “My door has been open for 3 1/2 years. They know where to find me.”
Rubio didn’t start talking about his own proposal until early this spring, shortly after meeting with Daniela Pelaez, the valedictorian and Dartmouth College-bound senior at North Miami High School who faced deportation. Rubio said Friday that when he arrived in the Senate in early 2011, no one wanted to talk about immigration reform because the wounds from the failed 2007 effort and the DREAM Act were still too fresh.