Election 2012
5:24 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

Hill Republicans Tight-Lipped On Immigration Change

Originally published on Wed June 20, 2012 7:00 pm

Nearly a week has gone by since President Obama announced a new immigration policy that could halt the deportation of some 800,000 young people brought to the country illegally.

While Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to criticize the president for bypassing Congress, they've been unusually silent on the question of whether these illegal immigrants should be getting such a break.

Republicans appear reluctant to get ahead of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on a key issue for Latinos, whose support for Romney remains uncertain.

Waiting For Romney

As leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky normally is not shy about publicly scolding Obama. But neither he nor any other Republican has uttered a single word on the Senate floor about the president's executive action.

Asked by reporters why he's said nothing about the issue, McConnell replied that Romney would be talking about it Thursday at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando.

"We're going to wait and see what Gov. Romney has to say and then our members are going to be discussing his views on this. And I think many of them will have similar views; others may not," he said.

Romney himself has not made clear where he stands on the president's action.

Late last year at a town hall meeting in Le Mars, Iowa, Romney did make it clear he was against the DREAM Act — legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for people brought as children to the country illegally by their parents.

"The question is: If I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it? And the answer is yes," Romney said.

But on Sunday, in an interview on CBS's Face The Nation, Romney seemed to soften his hard-line stance.

"With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is," Romney said.

Romney is well aware that the deportation of young immigrants is a big issue for Latino voters, and he was overheard a few weeks ago telling Republicans that if Latinos failed to embrace his candidacy for president, it "spells doom for us."

Grumbling On Both Sides

Obama's move on immigration appears to have caught Romney and many other Republicans by surprise.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama's move "puts everyone in a difficult position." Only a few weeks ago, Boehner dismissed the possibility of taking up the DREAM Act before the elections.

"I think we all have concerns for those who are caught in this trap, who through no fault of their own are here, but the president's actions are going to make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution," Boehner said.

Democrats say Republicans have done nothing but stand in the way of getting the DREAM Act passed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said now is not the time to walk away from the DREAM Act.

"But that's exactly what Republicans are doing. They're taking their marbles and saying, 'Well, OK, we'll just quit and go home,' " Reid said. "They've never been here anyway to go home. They haven't helped us anyway."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had been talking about introducing a somewhat less generous version of the DREAM Act. On Monday, he said he would no longer pursue that. But when asked Wednesday whether he would offer such legislation before the election, Rubio seemed to have had a change of heart.

"We'll see. I need to figure out what willingness there is to continue to focus on the issue now that the sense of urgency's been taken away. So, I hope so but I'm not sure," Rubio said.

Politics Over Policy?

Other Republicans say Obama is the one who failed to make good on a campaign promise to push through a comprehensive immigration overhaul his first year in office.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that never happened, "so now for him to turn around, just a few months before the election for obvious political reasons and take this step is something that American people should be skeptical about."

For his part, Reid was asked by a reporter whether he would bring up the DREAM Act in the Senate before the election to get senators on the record.

"I don't want to answer that question. That's a clown question, bro," Reid said, stealing a phrase from Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

As Reid knows well, some vulnerable Democrats are also uneasy when it comes to immigration.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Five days have gone by since President Obama issued a new immigration order. It could halt the deportation of 800,000 young people brought to the country illegally. Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to criticize the president for bypassing Congress, but they've been unusually silent on the actual policy. As NPR's David Welna reports, Republicans appear reluctant to get ahead of their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, on an issue that is key for Latino voters.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: As leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell normally is not shy about publically scolding President Obama, but neither he nor any other Republican has uttered a single word on the Senate floor about the president's executive action on behalf of young illegal immigrants. Asked by reporters why he's said nothing about the issue, McConnell replied that Mitt Romney would be talking about it tomorrow at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We're going to wait and see what Governor Romney has to say and then our members are going to be discussing his views on this. And I think many of them will have similar views, others may not.

WELNA: Romney himself has not made clear where he stands on the president's action. Half a year ago, at a town hall meeting in Le Mars, Iowa, Romney made it clear he was against the so-called DREAM Act, legislation that would give a path to citizenship to people brought to the country illegally by their parents.

MITT ROMNEY: The question is, if I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it. And the answer is yes.

WELNA: But on Sunday, in an interview on CBS, Romney seemed to soften his hard-line stance.

ROMNEY: With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long term solution so they know what their status is.

WELNA: Romney is well aware that the deportation of young immigrants is a big issue for Latino voters. And he was overheard a few weeks ago telling Republicans that if Latinos failed to embrace his candidacy for president, it quote, "spells doom for us." President Obama's move on immigration appears to have caught Romney and many other Republican by surprise.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It puts everyone in a difficult position.

WELNA: That's House speaker John Boehner, who only a few weeks ago, dismissed the possibility of taking up the DREAM Act before the elections.

BOEHNER: I think we all have concerns for those who are caught in this trap - who, through no fault of their own, are here. But the president's actions are going to make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.

WELNA: Democrats say Republicans have done nothing but stand in the way of getting the DREAM Act passed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says now is not the time to walk away from the DREAM Act.

SENATOR HARRY REID: That's exactly what Republicans are doing. They're taking their marbles and saying, well, okay, we'll just quit and go home. Quite frankly, (inaudible) never been here anyway to go home, they haven't helped us anyway.

WELNA: Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio had been talking about introducing a somewhat less generous version of the DREAM Act. On Monday, he said he would no longer pursue that. But when asked today about whether he would offer such legislation before the election, Rubio seemed to have had a change of heart.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, we'll see. I need to figure out what willingness there is to continue to focus on the issue now that the sense of urgency has been taken away. So, I hope so, but I'm not sure.

WELNA: Other Republicans say President Obama is the one who failed to make good on a campaign promise to push through comprehensive immigration reform his first year in office. Arizona Senator John McCain says that never happened.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: So, now for him to turn around just a few months before the election, for obvious political reasons, and take this step is something that American people should be skeptical about.

WELNA: For his part, Majority Leader Reid was asked by a reporter whether he would bring up the DREAM Act in the Senate before the election to get senators on the record.

REID: I don't want to answer that question. That's a clown question, bro.

(LAUGHTER)

WELNA: As Reid knows well, some vulnerable Democrats are also uneasy when it comes to immigration. David Welna, NPR News, the capitol.

BLOCK: Immigration is, of course, an issue of concern to all Americans, but it's of special concern to Latinos. As David Welna just reported, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, is holding its annual convention in Orlando. Mitt Romney will speak to the group tomorrow about his views on immigration policy and the other headlining speakers, President Obama, Jeb Bush, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Senator Marco Rubio, are all likely to address the issue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.