Republicans are lining up against President Obama's end-run around Congress to administratively grant immunity to some undocumented immigrants, effectively ensuring that he reaps the political dividends of the move among Hispanic voters -- and deepening Mitt Romney's predicament with Latinos and conservatives.
New polls suggest that Obama is gaining support among Hispanics, who have been unhappy with him for failing to pass immigration reform and for deporting illegal immigrants at a record pace.
Even as prominent conservatives like George Will and Bill Kristol give their party leaders an escape hatch by praising Obama's move, elected Republicans have instead decided to take cover with their anti-immigration base and stand against it. Careful to wrap their critique in procedural concerns and avoid discussing the substance, GOP lawmakers are lining up in droves to decry Obama's shift as executive overreach. Joining the pack Tuesday was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), even as he expressed sympathy for the plight undocumented youth brought to the U.S. by their parents.
"The question remains whether he violated the Constitution," Boehner said, adding that "the president's actions make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted that Obama last year expressed doubts about the legitimacy of such a move. Asked Tuesday whether the new policy is "amnesty," McConnell responded, "If it leads to citizenship as a reward for some kind of illegal entry, that could be argued." But he added that members of his conference intend to "withhold judgment" until Romney takes a stance, "and I think many of them will have similar views."
So far, Romney has offered few hints on where he stands.
"You know, we will see kind of what the calendar looks like at that point and I am not going to tell which items will come first, second, or third," he told Fox News. "What I can tell you is that those people who come here by virtue of their parents bringing them here, who came in illegally, that's something I don't want to football with as a political matter."
Balancing solidarity with DREAMers with opposition to Obama's policy shift won't be easy. Republicans killed the DREAM Act via Senate filibuster late in 2010, and to date neither elected members nor Romney have backed legislation to address the issue. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was crafting a bill to accomplish similar ends as Obama's move, now says it's a lost cause.
Romney has refused to say whether he would keep the new policy if elected. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of Republicans is calling on their nominee to pledge to reverse it.
During the primary, Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act if elected president and called for laws that encourage "self-deportation" of those migrants. His new-found sympathy for DREAMers is already a notable shift, and further movement in that direction risks angering the conservative base he's careful not to take for granted.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), eager to capitalize, went after Republicans for criticizing Obama's move to handle the issue administratively, pointing out that they've been blocking legislative action to help DREAM-eligible youth.
"There's no better illustration of the Republicans' hypocrisy than their phony outrage this past weekend," Reid said Tuesday. "Leading Republican voices on immigration are yet to actually disagree with the decision. They just don't like the way the president made the decision. I guess because he'll get credit for bringing out of the shadows 800,000 trustworthy young men and women who know no other home but the United States."