Far be it from us to tell President Barack Obama he can’t push his own immigration reform proposal. Not only is advocating legislation one of the things presidents are supposed to do, but he also has identified immigration reform as a second-term priority.
He just shouldn’t push his own plan right now, and he knows it. That’s because bipartisan immigration reform efforts are under way in both houses of Congress. They stem in part from the president’s efforts and in part from recognition among pragmatic Republicans that they need to polish their reputation among Hispanics. The Senate proposal has gotten the most attention, largely because of the involvement of Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona. They’re working with, among others, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who is closely allied with the White House.
Given the sensitivity of the subject matter and the partisanship that infuses just about every conversation in Washington these days, the last thing these collaborators need is meddling from the White House in the form of a proposal from the president. Though Sen. Schumer didn’t publicly take issue with the president’s proposal, leaked over the weekend, Republicans didn’t hold back. Sen. Rubio said in its present form it would be “dead on arrival” in Congress. As for Sen. McCain, he stated the obvious — that such leaks have political motivations and consequences — and speculated that the proposal is driven less by the president’s interest in immigration reform than his interest in positioning Democrats for the 2014 mid-term elections.
Despite protestations from the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, that the president wasn’t trying to upstage congressional efforts and that his proposal was merely a back-up plan in the event bipartisan discussions break down, we’re inclined to agree with Sen. McCain.
He knows better than most in Washington how difficult it is to craft legislation on such a controversial and multifaceted issue. He also knows better than most, perhaps including Sen. Rubio, how important a bipartisan bill that extends genuine opportunities for citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants is to future Republican efforts to woo Hispanic voters.
He’s probably right to worry that the leaked White House proposal could undo hard-won gains and undermine their efforts.