Rubio, White House in war of words over immigration meetings
Rubio release accuses president of not working with GOP on immigration reform
The temperature's rising between Sen. Marco Rubio and the White House over immigration reform. And it got to the point Tuesday that President Obama picked up the phone.
Earlier Tuesday the Republican senator from Florida's press secretary put out an email release stating President Barack Obama and his staff were not working with congressional Republicans on immigration reform.
"Contrary to what the WH COS (Chief of Staff Denis McDonough) said on the Sunday shows, President Obama and the White House staff are not working with Republicans on immigration reform. Senator Rubio's office has never discussed immigration policy with anyone in the White House," wrote Rubio press secretary Alex Conant. "To be clear: That's fine with us - we actually think Congress should write the policy; not the White House. But an honest question: If the Obama Administration is serious about drafting & passing its own immigration reform, why wouldn't they seek input from any Republicans whose support they'll need."
The White House disputed the contention that administration officials had not contacted Rubio's staff over immigration. A senior administration official told CNN there were five meetings in which White House staff and "Gang of Eight" staff were present to discuss immigration reform. The White House says this included staff from Rubio's office.
Then Tuesday afternoon, Obama called Rubio and two other Republican senators involved in the immigration effort to "discuss their shared commitment to bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform and to commend the senators for the bipartisan progress that continues to be made by the Gang of 8 on this important issue," the White House said.
Rubio is one of four GOP senators who are teaming up with four Democratic senators, known as the "Gang of Eight," in an effort to achieve a bipartisan immigration overhaul bill. Over the weekend he pounced on the Obama administration after news the White House was preparing their own legislation, should Congress fail to act. Rubio said such a bill would be "dead on arrival."
Neither the statement from the White House nor one from Rubio's office indicated the two sparred over the draft plan, though the White House statement noted Obama indicated "that while he is pleased with the progress and supportive of the effort to date, he is prepared to submit his own legislation if Congress fails to act."
Conant said that Rubio "appreciated" the call from Obama, which he took while traveling.
"The senator told the president that he feels good about the ongoing negotiations in the Senate, and is hopeful the final product is something that can pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support," Conant said.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration had reached out to the offices of each "Gang of Eight" member and the president met with the Democratic members of the bipartisan group.
"Let's be clear," Carney said. "The problem here isn't a lack of meetings around the table in the Roosevelt Room or the Cabinet Room."
And Tuesday afternoon, Rubio's office acknowledged that that the meetings had taken place, but said they were not asked by the White House for input on the administration's backup bill.
"We have never discussed immigration policy with anyone from the White House. The Administration has sent some agency officials to brief staff at the bipartisan group meetings, but they've never asked for our input," Conant told CNN. "We've never received a call or email from Cecilia Munoz [director of the White House Domestic Policy Council] or anyone else at the White House asking for our input as they draft their bill."
This back and forth follows the weekend leaking of draft White House legislation on immigration in case the "Gang of Eight" work is not successful at producing a bill. After USA Today reported the existence of the draft, the White House reached out to Senate offices, including Rubio's, late Saturday and said the leak was inadvertent, an aide to Rubio told CNN.
Rubio is currently traveling on an official congressional trip to Jordan and Israel.
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