Mitt Romney appeared to publicly split on Monday with his “informal” immigration adviser, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, setting up a general election pivot in which Romney potentially turns his back on the far-right anti-immigration sector of the GOP he courted heavily in the primary.
At a press conference with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) Monday, Romney said
Rubio’s nascent DREAM Act proposal, which offers the children of illegal immigrants a way to remain in the country, should pass muster with conservatives like Kobach. Kobach strongly opposes the DREAM Act on the grounds that it would provide amnesty to law-breakers — but Rubio’s proposal differs from Democratic versions of the DREAM Act, which offers a path to citizenship.
Kobach himself has said that Rubio’s proposal falls short of his test. Split between two men whose endorsement he touted, Romney appears to be leaning toward Rubio.
The political calculus of such a move is obvious. Romney faces a deep deficit in the polls with the Latino electorate, and Republicans have said that Rubio’s DREAM Act could help close that gap. But immigration is one of few issues on which Romney has bona fides with the conservative wing of the GOP. During the primaries, Romney used his cred with that faction of the party to attack Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants — the so-called “Texas Dream Act.”
Romney has been distancing himself from Kobach as of late, pivoting away from the man he proudly touted “on the team” in January while praising the strict immigration law in Arizona Kobach helped to create.
Other conservatives have echoed Kobach’s concern with Rubio’s plan, saying it doesn’t stand up to their scrutiny.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), told the New York Times that Rubio’s proposal would play into the hands of the Democrats:
Congress must first “re-establish the rule of law” with illegal immigrants before offering any of them legal status. Mr. Rubio’s proposal would simply do the Democrats’ political bidding, Mr. King said.
Democrats “see people in this country illegally as undocumented Democrats,” Mr. King said Thursday. “Do Republicans engage in that?”
Kobach told the Washington Post Rubio’s plan doesn’t sit right with him.
“If the bill required the illegal alien to return to his country of origin and get in line for the non-immigrant visa, then that would not be amnesty, and that would be conceivable,” Kobach said. “If it’s extended to people who are here illegally, and they don’t have to leave the country, that would be amnesty.”
Rubio’s plan, as it was been revealed so far, contains no such provision. But Romney nonetheless sounded inclined to support Rubio’s proposal on Monday.
“The one that’s been proposed in the Senate creates a new category of citizenship for certain individuals. [Rubio’s] proposal does not create that new category but instead provides visas for those that come into the country that came in as young people with their families,” Romney said. “I’m taking a look at his proposal. It has many features to commend it, but it’s something we’re studying.”
Here’s the video:
Romney has not yet come out in favor of, or opposition to, Rubio’s plan. But by speaking favorably on it, he’s taking a stand against some of his key supporters.