WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - President Obama's chief of staff on Sunday defended the administration's decision to prepare an immigration bill even as bipartisan groups in Congress are writing their own versions.
Chief of staff Denis McDonough said on two network talk shows that the White House still wants Congress to lead the effort to draft and pass an overhaul to the nation's immigration laws. But it is drafting its own bill, a copy of which wasobtained by USA TODAY, in case Congress moves too slowly.
"We are doing exactly what we said we would do, which is we'll be prepared in the event that the bipartisan talks going on the Hill - which by the way we're very aggressively supporting - if those do not work out, then we'll have an option that we'll be ready to put out there," McDonough said on NBC'sMeet the Press.
Republicans pounced on the release of the White House plan, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is part of a bipartisan group of senators crafting their own immigration bill, declaring the administration plan "dead on arrival" in Congress. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another member of the bipartisan group who also pushed a failed immigration effort in 2007, when asked if a presidential immigration plan would fail if sent to Congress, said "of course."
"This raises the question that many of us are continuing to wonder about: Does the president really want a result, or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?" McCain said onMeet the Press.
McDonough denied that charge, saying White House staff has been working "aggressively" with members of both parties in developing its draft bill. "We've been working with all the members up there," he said on ABC'sThis Week.
According to the draft of the White House bill, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could apply for a newly created "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" visa and, if approved, could legally live and work in the U.S. They could then apply to become legal permanent residents within eight years, and eventually U.S. citizenship.
The proposal lays out several restrictions to get the new visa, including passing a criminal background check and paying back taxes. It also increases funding and staffing to secure the country's borders, and requires the nation's business owners to use a federal program to check the immigration status of new hires within four years.