By Alexander Bolton and Pete Kasperowicz - 06/20/12 09:00 AM EDT
Bipartisan pressure is building on Mitt Romney to clearly spell out where the Republican Party stands on immigration.
With less than five months to go before Election Day, Democratic and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are calling on Romney to take a leading role.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Republican lawmakers will wait on Romney.
“Both the president candidates, both the incumbent and the challenger are going to be addressing this issue Thursday at an important meeting …,” he said. “Most of my members are interested in what Gov. Romney has to say about this issue and we’re going to withhold judgment, most of us, until that time.”
Romney on Thursday is scheduled to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Orlando, Fla. Obama will address the group on Friday.
McConnell, who previously backed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2006 during George W. Bush’s administration, acknowledged that his conference is divided on the issue.
“Our members are going to be discussing his views on this and I think many of them will have similar views, others may not,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said McConnell might have to wait longer than a few days to get Romney’s view.
“I can’t imagine that he’s going to get an answer very soon,” Reid said, pointing out that Romney has avoided taking a position.
Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, has declined to state if he would repeal Obama’s executive decision to allow some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country and work without fear of deportation.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, accused Romney Tuesday of being “AWOL.” The California liberal, the son of immigrants, said voters deserve to know Romney’s clear position.
Becerra said, “Mitt Romney, if you’re out there, if you can hear us, where do you stand on helping these young kids in America go on and live productive lives in the country they’ve known almost all their life?”
Romney is in an extremely difficult position. Some factions of the GOP are strongly opposed to Obama’s new policy. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the administration.
Other Republicans stress the need to court Hispanic voters this fall, lest they face electoral peril on Nov. 6.
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) this week proposed legislation that would block enforcement of Obama’s action.
Schweikert said his measure would prevent Obama from “dictating” immigration law from the White House.
Rep. Ben Quayle (Ariz.) and six other Republicans introduced similar legislation on Monday.
Schweikert and Quayle are running against each other in the 6th district in Arizona; the primary election is in late August.
House GOP leaders are unlikely to move on either of these bills.
Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday said Obama’s move “put everyone in a difficult position.” The Ohio Republican has repeatedly said he is focused on the ailing economy, and will not be distracted from the goal of creating jobs.
Recently, Boehner distanced the GOP-led House from an immigration bill that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been working on this spring. Boehner suggested the lower chamber would not be voting on the bill this election year.
The issue became moot on Monday when Rubio abandoned his goal of releasing such a plan before November.
During the GOP primary, Romney took a hard-line stance on immigration. He went after Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) immigration policies, which have been praised by reform proponents. Romney pointed out that Perry was against finishing the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act, a scaled-back immigration bill strongly supported by Obama. He later walked those comments back. Romney’s remedy of “self-deportation” was also mocked by Hispanic leaders from both parties.
He has declined to criticize Arizona’s border security law, which is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Pressed on where he stands, Romney this month has deferred to Rubio. But with Rubio now on the sidelines, Romney can’t use that line.
Romney understands what is at stake. Earlier this year, he was overheard saying that unless more Hispanics embrace his candidacy, it “spells doom for us.”
Romney has consistently backed E-Verify legislation, which would mandate that employers check their employees’ legal work status. But this relatively narrow measure has attracted opposition from rank-and-file Republicans.
House Republican leaders have opted not to move the bill through the lower chamber, even though it was a staple of the 2008 Republican National Committee platform.
— Mike Lillis and Bob Cusack contributed to this report.