Sen. Flake: Obama speech could ‘poison the well with a lot of Republicans’

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) warned President Obama to not take partial credit for a deal on immigration “principles” reached by a bipartisan group of eight senators, saying it could “poison the well” with Republicans. 

Flake, one of eight senators who worked on the deal, criticized Obama for doing little on immigration reform over the last four years and said it would be better if the Senate took the lead on the issue. 

Asked what the fallout would be if Obama takes some credit for the framework in the speech, Flake said: “It hurts. It certainly would poison the well with a lot of Republicans.” 

The senator’s comments were made during a Monday night interview with CNBC. 

“The truth is over the past four years the president hasn’t done much on this topic. In fact he talked about comprehensive reform but he would never get beyond the unions who want a temporary worker plan. So if the president is supportive, that’s one thing, that’s good. But I think having the Senate lead on this is better, far better,” Flake said.

The framework released Monday by Flake and seven other Senate Republicans and Democrats centers around four principles: a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increasing the number of visas for high skilled workers, setting up an employer verification system and establishing a guest-worker program.

Flake said immigration reform needs to happen well ahead of the midterm elections in 2014.

“Big items like this — and this is a big one, this is still a heavy heavy lift — need to be done early in a session,” Flake said. “Once you get closer to elections, even with an issue like this that I think favors Republicans for moving ahead, people get skittish when you get closer to a midterm election. So I think if you’re going to move something this big you’ve got to start early.”

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