Arizona Democrats facing tough reelection races are distancing themselves from the Obama administration as it prepares to file a lawsuit against the state over its controversial immigration law.
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) on Monday sent a sharply worded letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to sue.
Republican primaries in Arizona won’t be decided until August, but the prospective challengers have been hitting Democrats for not supporting the law or not staking out a specific position.
Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to maneuver past the controversial issue by focusing on border security and calling for action on immigration reform at the federal level. But if the Obama administration goes ahead with the suit, it will put the issue front and center during a campaign in which Democrats already face a tough environment.
This week Mitchell was joined by two other vulnerable Democrats in expressing public opposition to the administration’s legal strategy. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) are also urging the administration to reconsider its suit.
“Congresswoman Giffords wants more federal agents on the Arizona border, not federal lawyers in court arguing with state lawyers about a law that will do nothing to increase public safety in the communities she represents,” C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for the congresswoman, told The Hill.
Kirkpatrick likewise said the administration should focus on border security.
“I am calling on the president and the attorney general to abandon preparations for a lawsuit against Arizona, and to recommit to finding a national solution to fixing this national problem,” the freshman lawmaker said in a statement released Monday. “The administration should focus on working with Arizona to put together a long-term strategy to secure our borders and reform our immigration policy. … The time for talk is over, and the time for action is here.”
The three Democrats have also directed their energy to lifting the Arizona boycotts that various groups and local governments around the country have started.
Mitchell, Giffords and Kirkpatrick are all in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which is meant to help bolster vulnerable new members.
Strategists with the DCCC said it’s up to the members to decide how they’ll handle the controversial issue.
“The advice to these members is that they need to work hard to address the needs and interests of their constituents,” said Andy Stone, a DCCC spokesman.
Another way the suit could be problematic for Arizona Democrats: It could make it more complicated for them to appear with Obama at a fundraiser or campaign with him in-state.
The White House declined to comment for this story, but noted that Obama has no upcoming trips to Arizona planned at the moment.
The administration has not filed a lawsuit yet, and a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said it “continues to review the law.” But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Ecuadorian TV station NTN 24 during a June 8 interview that the administration would use the courts to nullify the law.
“President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act,” Clinton said, according to a transcript.
ABC News reported that DoJ could file a lawsuit as early as next week against the state of Arizona arguing the law is discriminatory.
The law calls for law enforcement officers, “when practical, to determine the immigration status” of a suspect. If the person is found to have violated immigration law, they’re to be transferred to the federal authorities.
Critics have said the bill promotes racial profiling, but polls have shown the law to be popular — a Rasmussen Reports survey in April found that 70 percent of likely voters in Arizona approve of the legislation, while just 23 percent oppose it.
--Shira Poliak contributed to this report.