Washington • Republicans are starting to lay the blame on President Barack Obama if an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system fails to become law.
The GOP’s emerging plan on immigration is to criticize Obama as an untrustworthy leader and his administration as an unreliable enforcer of any laws that might be passed. Perhaps realizing the odds of finding a consensus on immigration are long, the Republicans have started telling voters that if the GOP-led House doesn’t take action this election year, it is Obama’s fault.
"If the president had been serious about this the last five years, we’d be further along in this discussion," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said Sunday.
House Republicans last week unveiled a road map for an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system that calls for increased border security, better law enforcement within the U.S. and a pathway to legal status — but not citizenship — for millions of adults who live in America unlawfully. The proposal requires those here illegally to pay back taxes and fines.
But one of its backers, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, said distrust of Obama poisons interest among some in his Republican caucus.
"Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don’t trust the president to enforce the law," said Ryan, his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012.
Ryan said a plan that puts security first could only pass the House if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it — an unlikely prospect given Republicans’ deep opposition to Obama. The president’s waivers for provisions in his 4-year-old health care law have increased suspicions among Republicans.
"This isn’t a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach," Ryan said.
Asked whether immigration legislation would make its way to Obama for him to sign into law, Ryan said he was skeptical: "I really don’t know the answer to that question. That is clearly in doubt."
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a long and difficult path to citizenship for those living here illegally. The measure stalled in the GOP-led House, where leaders want to take a more piecemeal approach.
In the meantime, Republicans have started uniting behind a message that Obama won’t hold up his end of the bargain.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said "there’s a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law." And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., last week warned that distrust of Obama would trump the desire to find a solution for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
"We just don’t think government will enforce the law anyway," Rubio said, recounting conversations he’s had with fellow Republicans.
Immigration legislation is a dicey political question for the GOP. The party’s conservative base opposes any measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but many in the party worry that failing to act could strengthen support among many voters for Democratic candidates.
In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian voters. The issue is important to both voting blocs.
The White House, meanwhile, is trying to give Republicans a chance to hammer out their intra-party differences in the hopes they find a way to give legal standing to those here illegally.
"We ought to see a pathway to citizenship for people," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday. "We don’t want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country."
McDonough said the White House remains optimistic that legislation that includes citizenship could reach the president’s desk: "We feel pretty good that we’ll get a bill done this year."
Jindal spoke to CNN’s "State of the Union." Ryan appeared on ABC’s "This Week." Cantor was interviewed on CBS’ "Face the Nation." McDonough appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press" and CBS.
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