Leaked draft legislation reportedly authored by the White House would be used as a backup proposal should negotiations fail in Congress over comprehensive immigration reform, administration officials said today.
White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough was asked about the USA Todaystory on political talk shows this morning. On ABC's "This Week," McDonough told Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl lawmakers would have to "make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed."
"Let's make sure that that group up there, the ' Gang of Eight,' makes the good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to," McDonough said, referring to efforts of the Senate's bi-partisan working group.
The president has previously stated that his administration would be prepared to offer their own bill should Congress fail to reach consensus. Some details of the draft, which has not been finalized or released to Congress, match previous White House proposals including a 2011 immigration blueprint.
Also appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," host David Gregory asked him whether the draft signaled President Obama would drive any potential reform, over ongoing bipartisan work on Capitol Hill.
"The fact of this report, David, I think all it says to me is that we're doing exactly what we said we'd do," McDonough replied. "Which is that we'll be prepared, in the event that the bipartisan talks going on on the Hill - which by the way we are very aggressively supporting - if those do not work then we'll have an option that we are ready to put out there, as the president said in Las Vegas."
The newspaper says it obtained the unfinished bill from an anonymous administration official, one not authorized to disclose the information.
Among its particulars, if passed, would be the creation of a "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" status, that could be applied for by the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented residents. The new visa would allow its holders to legally live and work in the United States, as well as leave the country for short periods of time. After eight years visa holders who passed the program would be allowed to apply for full citizenship.
Earlier this month Democratic Gang of Eight members Sen. Richard Durbin and Sen Bob Menendez indicated the group was weighing similar a proposal that would extend the wait to 10 years. But Saturday a leading Republican in the group, Sen. Marco Rubio, immediately lambasted the White House version as "dead on arrival" in Congress.
"This legislation is half baked and seriously flawed," he said in a statement last night. "It would actually make our immigration problems worse. If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come."
Rubio said Republicans had not been consulted regarding the hypothetical legislation. On ABC, McDonough denied the claim.
"We've been working with all the members up there [of the Gang of Eight.] We have our staff working this very aggressively with their staffs and with the members, and we're working this very aggressively, as you think we would with such a high priority for the country," he said.
USA Today's article states that immigrants who seek citizenship under the White House draft would first have to submit to biometric screening, pass a criminal background check, and pay fees for the visa. Successful bids could still be disqualified for crimes, including those that would equal one year in prison, or three separate 90-day sentences.
Also included in the document are undisclosed increases to the Border Patrol, expansion of Homeland Security technologies along the border, and the hiring of an additional 140 judges to handle immigration violations.
As of press time White House officials have refused to comment directly on the specifics of the report. On NBC another Republican on the Gang of Eight, Sen. John McCain, suggested the leak might have been planned as a bargaining position.
"I believe we are making progress on a bipartisan basis. I believe we can come up with a product," McCain said. "Leaks don't happen in Washington on accident. This raises the question many of us continue to worry about. Does the president want a result? Or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?"
An administration official told ABC News that the White House had not intentionally floated the draft obtained by USA Today as a negotiating point. According to this official Obama aides were surprised to see the draft language in print media and thought it was unfortunate, given what they believed was substantive progress on Capitol Hill. Officials also reached out to Gang of Eight members of both parties after the report was published to try to assure them it was not planned, they said.
Senator Rubio's office confirmed to ABC they had received such correspondence.
ABC's Jordan Fabian and Reena Ninan contributed to this report, which has been updated.