(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Republicans are asking whether President Barack Obama really wants immigration reform to pass in the narrow window that experts say now exists in the Congress, pointing to a leak late last week and statements by officials over the weekend.
Some congressional Republicans are concerned that the White House immigration proposal leaked to USA Today over the weekend signaled that Obama is more interested in using the issue to divide the Republican Party ahead of the 2014 elections than actually getting an immigration reform bill signed into law, according to some political insiders.
The leak "does feed a fear" that Obama "will pull the rug out from under us," said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Stuart Stevens, a top strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential election campaign, reflected that fear in a panel discussion on ABC's "This Week." Stevens could not understand why the White House is leaking proposals that have no chance of getting passed in the House, rather than working with Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a leading Republican on the immigration reform issue.
"Is this about politics or is this about passing a bill?" Stevens asked rhetorically. "You have in Senator Rubio someone who really is doing something extraordinary, trying to, and could be a partner in this process to help get it through."
Rubio could help the White House "lower the temperature in all this" and "try to get something done," Stevens added.
Jonathan Karl, ABC's chief White House correspondent, interviewed Obama's new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, on "This Week." Karl asked him repeatedly why the White House would leak the proposal and why they have not even met with Rubio.
"Let's be honest. There is no passing an immigration bill without Marco Rubio. How could the White House be working on a draft without Republican input?" Karl asked.
"We've got a bill, we're doing exactly what the president said we would do last month in Las Vegas, which is we're preparing. We're going to be ready," McDonough answered.
McDonough was referring to Obama's Jan. 29 speech on immigration reform in which he warned members of Congress that if they did not pass an immigration reform bill, he would propose his own bill. The threat is odd because a bill proposed by Obama would certainly have less support than the bills worked on by bipartisan groups in the House and Senate.
"An Obama immigration plan is not going to pass the House," former speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pointed out in the panel discussion.
A bipartisan House immigration bill negotiated with a bipartisan Senate immigration bill "could actually get to the president's desk," Gingrich added. "But an Obama plan, led and driven by Obama, in this atmosphere, with the level of hostility towards the president, and the way he goads the hostility, I think it's very hard to imagine that his bill is going to pass the House."
Liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus added that Gingrich's point raises a "really interesting leadership conundrum with Obama" because Republicans are asking Obama to show more leadership on the debt crisis but are asking him to stay out of the way on the immigration issue.
The fear among some Republicans is that the White House will seek to add a "poison pill" to the bill, or a provision that will make the bill unattractive to Republicans who otherwise want immigration reform. The bill would not pass, but then Obama could blame Republicans for killing the bill and use it as an issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
The leaked White House immigration proposal had several issues of concern for Republicans: it would not include adequate border security, it would not require unauthorized immigrants to wait until all immigrants who have applied to enter the country through legal means are processed first, and there would be no guest worker program. A bill that did not include, at least, these three would not be able to pass in the Republican-controlled House.
Obama has already called for giving gay partners family status in the legislation, and there have been discussions in the House and Senate about adding that to the bill. Such a proposal, though, would diminish support among many, mostly Republican, members of Congress.
The Catholic Church and many evangelical groups are lending their support to immigration reform, but adding a controversial provision about gay partners could cause some of them to withdraw their support.