McDonough: Pressure is on Congress to craft deal on immigration reform

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday pushed back against criticism over a leaked Obama administration immigration proposal, claiming that the pressure to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws was on Congress.

McDonough on ABC’s “This Week” responded to Sen. Marco Rubio’s statement on Saturday that the reported White House immigration draft would be “dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill.

“He says it’s ‘dead on arrival’ if it’s proposed. Well let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed,” said McDonough, according to a transcript of the interview. “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.”

Rubio is a member of the bipartisan Senate group which last month unveiled their own immigration reform blueprint, and has been working behind the scenes to rally support among conservatives for the proposal.

The freshman Florida senator, though, reacted harshly to the reported Obama draft proposal which was leaked on Saturday.

“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 in a statement.

He also criticized the administration for not doing more to seek GOP input before circulating their proposal.

“It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress,” Rubio added. “President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution,”

The White House draft proposal, first reported by USA Today, would create a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa to allow holders to work and travel after undergoing a criminal background check and paying fees. After eight years under the visa, an immigrant could apply for legal permanent residency as a green card holder.

It would also increase funds for the Border Patrol, add federal immigration judges and devote more resources to expand the use of E-Verify by employers.

McDonough, though, stressed that the White House expected Congress to take the lead on an immigration deal.

“The fact of this report… all it is says to me is that we are doing exactly what we said we would do, that we would be prepared in the event that the bipartisan talks going on the Hill–that we are very aggressively supporting–if those that do not work out then we will have an option to put out there,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press.

A White House spokesman mirrored those comments on Saturday night.

“We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens told CNN.

Two other GOP members of the immigration Gang of Eight also reacted negatively to the leaked draft.

“President struck the right tone on immigration during SOTU. But leaking details of a partisan WH draft is not helpful,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted.

“This raises the question: Does the president really want a result?” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” who predicted the draft would fail to pass Congress if presented. 

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cautioned that the draft was not the administration’s “final or complete bill.”

Schumer said he understood that Rubio was “upset with this leak,” but added that he had talked to his Senate colleague, who was “fully on board with our process.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking on “Fox News Sunday” said that the leaked Obama draft shows to him that the president is more focused on retaining immigration as a wedge issue in the next election and less on finding a deal with Congress.

Obama is “torpedoing his own plan,” Paul said. “That is no way to get it done.”

Paul said that any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants must be tied to secure borders, something lacking in the leaked draft. He said he would support immigration reform only if Congress had to vote on an annual report affirming that the borders were secure.

He said that as a conservative he has evolved on the issue and is willing to compromise.

“I’ve come a long way,” he said, adding later that he does not support rounding up illegal immigrants and deporting them to their home countries.

Erik Wasson and Zack Colman contributed

This post was last updated at 12:07 p.m.