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Rubio: Obama Derailed DREAM Act

No surprise here, as killing Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposed DREAM Act was exactly the point of Obama’s announcement on Friday. But it certainly is interesting that the same guy who took to the pages of Time today to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is the same guy who has been frantically working behind the scenes to spike Rubio’s legislation. Mission accomplished:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that President Barack Obama’s move last week to block deportations for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S. has likely derailed his own similar efforts, at least until after the election.

“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Sen. Rubio said in an interview. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”

The conventional wisdom is that Obama pulled some brilliant political footwork, knocking the GOP off message and locking up the Hispanic vote for November. In fact, Obama seems to be the one who was played here, though he may not even realize it. One immigration advocate tells the National Journal that pro-DREAM groups bounced Obama and Rubio off each other, knowing it was going to take some significant political pressure to get the White House to cave on the issue:

“The game changer here was Marco Rubio,’’ said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, one of a number of groups that has been pushing the White House on reform. “He was a legitimate conservative trying to find a solution to the broken immigration system … and the administration realized they had to do something.’’

White House sources dismissed the idea that the president acted under pressure from Rubio, saying that the fate of the yet-to-be-filed legislation was unclear. Still, the White House clearly seized the chance to gain the upper hand on the DREAM Act while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dithered on whether to back Rubio’s proposal and the senator scrambled to file the legislation.

“The big takeaway from this is that it doesn’t pay to be a friend of Democrats, and it doesn’t pay to be a friend of Republicans,’’ Noorani added. “We were able to ping-pong back and forth between Rubio and the White House.’’

That last paragraph is why Obama’s move may not move the dial with the Hispanic community as much as the White House hopes. Hispanic voters are an increasingly influential voting bloc, but they have often failed to wield this power effectively on a national stage once the elections are over. As a candidate, President Obama promised them the extensive reform, but immediately put immigration issues on the back burner once he took office. It was only when Rubio’s DREAM Act became a threat that Obama jumped into action — but, again, during an election season.

That’s the problem with groups whose votes are taken for granted by one party. Their concerns are often seen as less urgent by the favored party, and the disfavored party has little incentive to act because it won’t get the votes anyway. Immigration advocates seem to realize their agenda won’t progress quickly on a national level unless they have influence with both Republicans and Democrats, and that means they can’t have one party taking Hispanic votes for granted.


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