On immigration bill leak, Schumer says reform can only happen with 'bipartisan agreement'

Sunday, February 17, 2013 - 6:49pm

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer - one of the "Gang of Eight" senators working toward a bipartisan immigration overhaul on Capitol Hill - said Sunday he was not "upset" with a recently leaked draft of the president's own immigration bill.

At the same time, however, Schumer said real change will only occur if revamping immigration policy is done in a bipartisan fashion.

"It's obvious that if a Democrat, the president or anyone else, puts out what they want on their own, it's going to be different than when you have a bipartisan agreement," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But the only way we're going to get something done is with a bipartisan agreement."

Last month CNN reported that President Obama was working on his own backup legislation, a measure the president has said he's prepared to introduce should Congress fail to act.

USA Today reported Saturday that the administration was sending a draft proposal to various federal agencies. An administration official told CNN the specifics of the plan were accurate as of the last draft this official had seen.

The draft included an eight-year path to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, for undocumented immigrants.

A second administration official noted to CNN that the various drafts contain different proposals, but USA Today reported this particular draft included a criminal background check, paying any back taxes owed, an English and U.S. history requirement, and a proposed new "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa.

The draft also included increases to the border security and legal process and expansion of the E-Verify system to check employability of potential hires.

Schumer and the other three Democrats and four Republicans in the congressional "gang" have said they plan to release a draft version of their bill next month - a framework for which they unveiled in January. A similar effort is under way in the House.

CNN has reported that some senior Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have met with the president and asked him not to introduce his own bill, saying such a move could interrupt delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill.

And the president met with the four Democrats in the "Gang of Eight" at the White House on Wednesday. Schumer said during the meeting, the president "agreed to give (them) the space (they) need to come up with a bipartisan proposal."

"So we're working well together," Schumer told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Schumer also added that White House officials said "when this leak occurred - and I don't know how it occurred - that it wasn't their final or complete bill."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, however, was not so pleased with the leak, saying in a statement late Saturday night that the bill would be dead on arrival and that "it's a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress."

"President Obama's leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution," Rubio added.

Other Republicans took issue with the leak, including Sen. John McCain, another member of the "Gang of Eight," who said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "leaks don't happen in Washington by accident." And Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argued the leak shows that the president is "really not serious" on getting immigration reform passed.

"When they come out and adamantly say my way or the highway and, if Congress doesn't ask, I'll put it on the desk and say, pass it now - that's no way to get it done," Paul said on "Fox News Sunday." "Then he'll blame it on us and it seems to me, to show that really the president doesn't want immigration reform."

The White House, however, contends that the administration was not using the leak to float proposals and was surprised to learn that draft language had been given to the press.

Responding to Rubio's response, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on ABC's "This Week" that the White House has been "talking with all the parties to the Gang of Eight effort in the Senate."

"We have our staff working this very aggressively with their staff and with the members and working this very aggressively," he continued. "Let's make sure (the White House bill) doesn't have to be proposed and make sure the Gang of Eight makes good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to."

In fact, an aide to Rubio told CNN that the White House emailed Rubio's office "late last night to say the USA Today leak was inadvertent."

Schumer acknowledged Sunday that he did not know the details of the president's plan, but painted an optimistic picture nonetheless, saying he doubted the leak of the president's draft bill would derail efforts on Capitol Hill.

"I know that Sen. Rubio was upset with this leak. I am not upset. We've talked to Sen. Rubio and he is fully on board with our process," Schumer said. "I am very hopeful that in March we will have a bipartisan bill."

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