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President Obama is playing games on immigration

Somalian immigrant Abdiraizak Ali Kent Wash. cheers speaker during Refugee Immigrant Legislative Day rally Capitol steps OlympiWash. Thursday.

Somalian immigrant Abdiraizak Ali of Kent, Wash., cheers a speaker during the Refugee and Immigrant Legislative Day rally on the Capitol steps in Olympia, Wash., on Thursday. | Tony Overman~AP

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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:22AM

Just when you have one of the Republican Party’s top leaders, Paul Ryan, praising President Barack Obama for not wanting to politicize the sensitive issue of immigration reform, the White House proves him wrong. What’s more, it fuels speculation — and not just from Republicans — that Obama’s focus is on the 2014 mid-term elections and a gamble that Democrats can recapture the House of Representatives for complete control of Washington and use the last two years of his presidency to push through a liberal dream agenda.

The reason for Ryan’s praise was what he saw as the constructive tone of Obama’s remarks on immigration in the State of the Union speech a week ago. It looked like the executive branch wasn’t going to do anything to torpedo the delicate negotiations of a bipartisan Group of Eight U.S. senators struggling to write compromise immigration legislation that could pass Congress. A similar across-the-aisle effort is under way in the House.

Then the White House leaked its version of an immigration bill to USA Today. It was lacking on key issues like a guest worker program or dealing adequately with border security, fundamental to achieving bipartisan success. Asked about the leak on ABC’s “This Week,” Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and former GOP vice presidential candidate, backtracked from his earlier comment, saying the leak “does set things in the wrong direction” and “tells us that he’s looking for a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution.”

It’s worth noting here that only a few weeks ago senior Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged Obama not to unveil his immigration legislation “for fear of blowing up delicate bipartisan talks” in Congress, according to CNN.

It’s been an article of faith in many conservative circles since his big Election Day victory that Obama is aiming to take advantage of post-election divisions within the Republican Party and keep his campaign apparatus going to regain control of the House next year. Now you’re hearing that from Obama’s disciples in the media who constantly complain about GOP “obstructionism” despite efforts like the bipartisan immigration talks.

“[M]aybe he just can keep that election base going, keep that campaign strategy alive and maybe, maybe have a chance to take back the House,” Lincoln biographer and Obama cheerleader Doris Kearns Goodwin said on the Charlie Rose PBS show. “And then you get everything and then you get the whole ball game. So it’s worth it, you take a risk.”

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called for Obama to seek a “grand bargain” on fiscal issues — though the record shows Obama considers a “grand bargain” to be the GOP caving to his tax and spending demands ­— before Obama “opts for a strategy of trying to pummel the Republican Party, hoping that he can win the House for the Democrats in 2014 and then push through his second-term agenda unencumbered.”

The immigration leak would argue Obama already has opted for politics over bipartisan policy. This is a very loyal, tightly controlled White House, so leaks don’t happen without a reason. A White House official described it as a backup plan if congressional efforts fail. Does anyone really believe that an Obama bill could pass if a bipartisan group of legislators can’t produce a bill? The leak only undercuts GOP leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida trying to fashion a plan that can work as policy — rather than use immigration as a political wedge issue, as increasingly looks to be the case with Obama. If that is his strategy, will Hispanic voters fall for it?

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