Congressional Republicans are calling foul on the Obama administration for potentially compromising immigration reform after a White House draft proposal that grants a pathway to citizenship within eight years was leaked to USA Today.
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., all publicly lashed out at the White House, they say for undermining bipartisan efforts already underway in both chambers of Congress.
The leaked plan provides a path to legal permanent residency within eight years via a "Lawful Immigrant Visa" for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country illegally. Under the proposed plan, undocumented immigrants would file behind legal applicants, and would not be approved for green-card status until the earlier of two dates: either eight years after the law is enacted or 30 days after the last legal applicant is processed.
Similar to congressional proposals already in the works, the White House plan also builds on calls for increased border security and would require all employers to check the immigration status of new hires using an expanded E-Verify system within four years.
The revelation of a White House proposal, deemed a "draft" by White House officials eager to downplay its significance, angered congressional Republicans. It comes just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform and as a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate laid out a framework for new policy.
Rubio, a member of the "Gang of Eight," denounced the Obama plan as "dead on arrival" saying it "creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally."
While the policies outlined in the draft legislation are largely the same as those advanced by the president in a speech in Las Vegas earlier this month, and while the next day he revealed in an interview with Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart that he had a draft, the release of the document threatens to disrupt a delicate balance between congressional Republicans and Democrats.
The night before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, President Obama laid out his vision saying that "the time has come" to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and praising efforts in Congress.
"As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts," Obama said in his State of the Union address. "Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away."
A number of Republicans said they appreciated the president's non-confrontational tone on immigration during Tuesday's address. Former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told the New York Times, "I thought on immigration he used the right words and the right tone, which tells me he actually doesn't want to politicize this, which is conducive to getting something done."
Yet the airing of the draft legislation crafted by the White House without input from both parties angered Ryan, who insinuated on ABC's This Week that the leak was intentional. "By putting these details out...that tells us he is looking for partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution. This particular move is counter productive," Ryan said.
A White House official denied an intentional leak in comments to NBC News. "This was not the administration floating anything...We were surprised to learn what appeared to be draft language had been given to the press, thought it was unfortunate, and reached out to senate offices on both sides of the aisle on Saturday evening to make that clear."
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough downplayed the plan's significance on the weekend talk shows, and said that the Obama administration was "very aggressively supporting" the bipartisan talks on the Hill. "We’re just going to be ready," he said of the proposals.
Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart questioned the timing of the release, which has Republicans on the defensive and the president looking more aggressive than he has in the past, at a crucial junction in the immigration debate that hinges on bipartisan cooperation.
"The day after that speech, I spoke with the president at the White House, and among the things he told was that he already had this plan written," Diaz-Balart said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday. "So we know it's there. We know it's written. We know he is ready to file it if things break down. The question is the timing of this leak. Is it now a time to say, 'Here are the specifics of a proposal that I will present if you fail,' before they have even failed?"
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the Hispanic civil rights organization National Council of La Raza, voiced optimism on Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday, calling the back-and-forth between President Obama and lawmakers "healthy tensions" and saying, "what we're seeing played out is just the making of legislation."
"I think it’s legitimate for Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. McCain, who have been leading efforts on the Republican side, to say, 'Wait a minute. Give us a chance to keep moving our bipartisan effort forward,'" Murguia told Mitchell. "But it's equally legitimate for the president to say, 'I want to have a marker out there' and if things sort of derail or end up taking too long, then he can have an option of putting his bill forward."