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Monday, February 3, 2014

GOP: US immigration reform ‘in doubt’

House Budget Committee Chairman, Republican Representative Paul Ryan, pictured during a San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event, in San Antonio last month.

Influential Republican moves to pin blame on Obama, saying party doesn’t ‘trust’ the president

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party warned Barack Obama yesterday that his desire to overhaul the United States’ broken immigration system this year will fail, with one of the GOP’s most influential figures declaring that his party’s “distrust” of the president will kill any chance of a deal.

Representative Paul Ryan, talking on US television, said distrust of Obama runs so deep that he’s sceptical the Republican-led House would pass any immigration measure this year. He said a plan that puts security first could only pass if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it — an unlikely prospect given the Republicans’ deep opposition to the president.

“This isn’t a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach,” Ryan said on ABC’s This Week. “Security first, no amnesty, then we might be able to get somewhere,” he added.

Asked if Obama would get a bill to sign this year, Ryan replied: “I really don’t know the answer to that question. That’s clearly in doubt.”

Immigration reform legislation, which the Senate passed back last June, is currently stalled in the Republican-controlled House. Last week, House Republicans announced their broad concerns for any immigration overhaul but emphasized they would tackle the challenge bill-by-bill. The plan outlines “principles” for immigration reform and embraces an agenda that gives their candidates a campaign message that goes beyond political attacks on Obama.

Immigration legislation is a dicey political question for the Republicans. The party’s conservative base opposes any measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but many in the party worry that failing to act could drive many voters to Democratic candidates.

In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of “Hispanic” voters and 73 percent of Asian voters.

Complicating the issue even further is the fact that all 435 House seats are up for election this year. Many House Republicans are unwilling to tackle the issue in an election year, fearful of losing core conservative votes, especially with many under attack from well-funded right-wing independents and Tea Party activists.

With Ryan’s move yesterday, the GOP has renewed its attempt to pre-emptively blame the White House for the legislation’s failture. The attack seems to be designed to play on fears that Obama is untrustworthy.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said recently “there’s a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law.” And Republican Senator Marco Rubio warned last week that distrust of Obama would trump the desire to find a solution for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

“We just don’t think government will enforce the law anyway,” Rubio said, recounting conversations he’s had with fellow Republicans.

SECURITY THE PRIORITY

House Republicans are pushing a piecemeal approach to immigration reform that puts a priority on security before considering a pathway for those here illegally to earn citizenship. That strategy runs counter to the comprehensive bill, passed by the Senate seven months ago with bipartisan support that includes a long and difficult pathway to citizenship.

The White House, meanwhile, has returned to its position that any legislation must include a way for those here illegally to earn citizenship and that the system cannot divide people into two classes — citizens and non-citizens. But Obama and his supporters may soon face a hard decision over whether to shelve the creation of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and instead embrace border enforcement efforts that they have previously criticized.

“We ought to see a pathway to citizenship for people,” White House Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough said yesterday. “We don’t want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country.”

Last week, Obama suggested that he’s open to a legal status for immigration that falls short of citizenship, hinting he could find common ground with House Republicans.

“I’m going to do everything I can in the coming months to see if we can get this over the finish line,” Obama said.

Obama’s flexibility was a clear indication of the president’s desire to secure an elusive legislative achievement before voters decide whether to hand him even more opposition in Congress. Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on the House and have a legitimate shot at grabbing the majority in the Senate.

WHITE HOUSE OPTIMISM

McDonough said the White House remains optimistic that legislation that includes citizenship could reach the president’s desk this year, despite the warnings: “We feel pretty good that we’ll get a bill done this year.”

Not so, countered Ryan, the Republican’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012 and a frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

“Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: we don’t trust the president to enforce the law,” he added.

Ryan said yesterday that Republicans have made it clear that they will not be forced to compromise with the Senate on a deal and will refuse to go to conference committee with the Senate immigration reform bill.

“This is not one of those issues that has a deadline,” he said in the ABC interview. Ryan emphasized that securing the US-Mexico border was a crucial first step before changing rules around legal residency.

“We don’t know who’s coming and going in this country. We don’t have control of our borders,” he said. “Doing nothing on the security side of this isn’t the responsible thing to do.”

Herald with AP, Reuters

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