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Immigration and voters

Both Democrats and Republicans have struggled to deal with immigration reform over the last decade.

President George W. Bush, who repeatedly pushed comprehensive immigration reform, famously predicted in 2007 that he would reach the finish line.

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“I’ll see you at the bill signing,” he said at the time. But the measure died in the Senate. 

President Obama vowed to pass a similar bill in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. It didn’t happen, though, because Democratic leaders instead used their political capital to push healthcare reform into law.

Obama and congressional Democrats in 2010 did tout the DREAM Act, a scaled-back immigration reform bill. It attracted widespread GOP opposition and dozens of Democratic “no” votes, passing the House but ultimately dying in the Senate.

Late last week, Obama adopted many of the DREAM Act principles through a controversial administrative action. 

Mitt Romney and other Republicans cried foul, claiming that Obama was going around Congress. But senior GOP officials, including Romney, were careful not to rip the policies embraced by the Obama administration.

The Obama White House has said the move had nothing to do with election-year politics. That assertion, of course, is absurd. The politics of the decision are abundantly clear, and very clever, for they have put Republicans in an awkward spot. 

Just a couple of days after the Obama shift, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he would not be unveiling his own version of the DREAM Act, as he had previously vowed to do. Soon thereafter, ABC and other news outlets reported that Rubio was not being vetted by Romney’s campaign for the 2012 GOP ticket. 

Romney had been deferring to Rubio on immigration, but now the former Massachusetts governor will need to lead the GOP on this thorny issue.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said as much, and acknowledged that Republicans have different opinions on immigration/border control.

Romney, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, is boxed in. During the GOP presidential primary, he said he would veto the DREAM Act, but he later backtracked, saying he’d nix only parts of the legislation.

He also suggested the Arizona immigration law was a model for the nation, but then his campaign spun the comment by saying he was talking about an employment verification immigration measure called E-Verify. Romney will again be on the spot when the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona law.

Regardless, both McConnell and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have shown little appetite for advancing immigration legislation. 

The spotlight is on Romney, who is trailing Obama badly among Hispanic voters. Independent political handicappers say the ailing economy helps Romney but add that unless Romney closes the Hispanic gap, Obama will win a second term.