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Will Obama Sabotage Immigration Deal?

Eight years after Congressional opponents pronounced President George W. Bush’s immigration reform plan dead on arrival, there appears to be a real opportunity that a far-reaching proposal on the subject will pass the Senate.  As the Washington Post reports, a working group of senators, including heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, are close to an agreement on the principles for changing the country’s immigration laws. According to the Post, the proposal, which could be announced as early as a week from today will include the following:

The working group’s principles would address stricter border control, better employer verification of workers’ immigration status, new visas for temporary agriculture workers and expanding the number of visas available for skilled engineers. They would also include a call to help young people who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents become citizens and to normalize the status of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

The plan, which is the result of talks including Democrats Robert Menendez, Richard Dubin, Charles Schumer, Michael Bennett and Republicans Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake. While there are still some disagreements to be ironed out since Rubio believes that illegals should have to wait for citizenship until those who arrived legally are accommodated while Democrats disagree, this may be the best chance to pass a bill dealing with the problem in decades. But there is one potential obstacle: President Obama.

The question facing Senate negotiators this weekend is whether their hard work crafting a bipartisan compromise will be blown up by the president’s determination to exploit the issue for political purposes. Though he has said that immigration reform is a priority, the senators may be holding their breath this weekend to see if Obama’s scheduled speech in Las Vegas next week will reinforce their efforts or making it more difficult for Republicans to work with the Democrats on the legislation.

Though the president spent most of his first term posing somewhat disingenuously as an advocate of balanced approaches on the issues and working for bipartisan consensus. But since his re-election he has dropped that pretense and adopted a more straightforward strategy aimed at demonizing Republicans and branding them as extremists. Since he knows it is more in the interests of his party to ensure that Hispanics believe all Republicans are enemies of immigrants than to pass a common sense bill, it would be entirely in character for him to spend the upcoming weeks blasting the GOP on the issue rather than piping down just at the moment when a deal is in the offing.

Rubio’s work in paving the way for Republican acceptance of a reform bill has been exemplary. As the Huffington Post reported, Rubio has taken to the airwaves speaking on conservative talk shows and has, surprisingly, received a good reception even from heretofore-staunch opponents of any solution other than the fantasy of deporting 12 million illegals. With the support of other conservatives like Paul Ryan, his initiative stands a good chance of passing in the House, provided the Senate has already adopted it.

But even Democrats are worried that Obama’s slash and burn tactics will turn immigration into a partisan issue and make it impossible to carry through both Houses of Congress.

As the Post notes:

Some Democrats in the House, including Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), have cautioned that the White House could harm the bid for bipartisan support if it acts too aggressively by authoring its own legislative proposal.

But left-wing activists whose primary purpose is to recruit Hispanics to vote for the Democrats aren’t the least interested in Gutierrez’s legitimate concerns. Rather than urging, as they should, that Obama stand aside and let this be a bipartisan compromise, some union hacks like the Service Employees International Union’s Eliseo Medina are egging the president on to grandstand on the issue.

Rubio has been making progress towards persuading conservatives that their worries about “amnesty” are wrongheaded since the existing mismanaged and inefficient system neither protects our borders nor deals fairly with immigrants. He’s right. Republicans should understand that the current mess harms our economy and undermines support for the rule of law. A bill along the outlines that the Senate group is working on is long overdue. Bringing undocumented aliens into the system is good public policy and it is also good politics for Republicans who need to stop playing the anti-immigrant card as Mitt Romney did last year.

But after years of advocating for genuine compromise with Republicans on tough issues, it’s by no means clear whether the president has any interest in seizing a chance to pass immigration reform if it means a bipartisan deal.

The president said last week that he’s not to blame for the lack of communication between the White House and Congress. But the fiscal cliff agreement brokered by Vice President Biden illustrated that his boss was neither interested in nor capable of working with Congress. At times, the president seemed to be working to undermine the deal that eventually passed with inflammatory rhetoric intended to make conservatives dig in rather than to bend a bit. Should the president continue to play partisan politics on immigration just at the moment when he ought to be working quietly behind the scenes to get Republicans on board, it will be the immigrants who will suffer. If immigration reform fails again this year, the likely culprit will not be a faction of conservative hardliners but a liberal president more interested in exploiting Hispanic fears than getting a bill passed.

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