A former top adviser to the president said Monday that the White House had made a “mistake” in distributing a draft bill on immigration reform, as Republicans attacked the leaked blueprint as an attempt to sideline bipartisan input.
“The mistake here was to disseminate it so widely within the administration that it got leaked,” David Axelrod said, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “And I’m sure if they could they’d take that back.”
Republicans reacted angrily over the weekend to the revelation that the White House was passing around its own immigration legislation. Senator Marco Rubio, part of a so-called “gang of eight” which is leading work on the issue, said the White House had not consulted Congress on the draft. “It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress,” Rubio said in a statement. “If actually proposed, the President’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress.”
For two days, the Obama administration has denied that the draft bill was an attempt to hijack the legislative process. “We’re talking with all the parties to the ‘gang of eight’ effort in the Senate,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “We have our staff working this very, very aggressively with their staffs and with the members.”
Axelrod echoed that assertion Monday, saying White House and Senate staffers have been meeting “several times a week”. “The president’s backup plan is a backup plan,” said Axelrod, who left the Obama administration to run a Chicago-based political institute.
The administration draft proposal did not appear to have sharp differences with legislation currently under construction in Congress. Both versions include provisions for increased border security, harsher penalties for law-breaking employers and the prioritization of citizenship claims by legal immigrants.
It was the second time in a month that the Obama administration has jumped ahead of Congress on immigration reform. The president’s major speech on the effort, in Las Vegas on 29 January, was announced just days in advance with a weekend intervening. The senate “gang” had to call a hasty Monday press conference to announce their own work.
With the approval of an influential voting bloc at stake, both parties are jockeying to be seen as taking the lead on the issue. The release of the draft bill, which lays out an eight-year path to citizenship for the country’s 11m undocumented workers, may indicate the president’s sense of political advantage.
Rubio, who is tipped by some to be a potential 2016 presidential candidate, left Sunday for a trip to the Middle East. He has not commented further.