WASHINGTON – The White House is downplaying its draft proposal as merely a backup plan if lawmakers don't come up with an immigration overhaul of their own. It won't be necessary, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are telling the Obama administration.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that President Obama wants to "be prepared" in case the small bipartisan group of senators fails to devise a plan for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. In response, lawmakers assured the White House they are working on their own plan — and warned that Obama would be heading toward failure if the White House gets ahead of them.
"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down," McDonough said, adding he's optimistic they would not crumble.
But he was equally realistic about the fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill.
"Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed," McDonough said of the president's pitch, first reported on USA Today's website late Saturday.
Even so, the administration is moving forward on its own immigration agenda should one of Obama's top priorities get derailed.
The administration's proposal would create a visa for those in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years. The proposal also requires businesses to know the immigration status of their workers and adds more funding for border security.
It drew immediate criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the eight lawmakers searching for a comprehensive plan.
"If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come," said Rubio, who has been a leading GOP spokesman on immigration.
Many of the details in the administration's draft proposal follow the broad principles that Obama previously outlined. But the fact the administration is writing its own alternative signaled Obama wants to address immigration sooner rather than later and perhaps was looking to nudge lawmakers to move more quickly.
The tactic could complicate the administration's work with Congress.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker who was his party's vice presidential nominee last year, said the timing of the leak suggests the White House was looking for "a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution."