With 48-hours of spin and Republican criticism on its side, the Obama administration continued to back away from an immigration plan that leaked over the weekend. After USA Today reported on a leaked immigration bill that Obama's team was assembling as various factions on Capitol Hill worked on their own legislation, an unnamed administration official told NBC News on Monday that the White House was not "floating anything" and framed the leaked legislation as a backup plan. "The administration will be ready to move forward in the event the bipartisan process gets bogged down and is not able to produce a bill," the administration official said. "But our focus remains on supporting the congressional process."
That's the right thing to say, since the leaders of said "congressional process" — or at least the Republicans among them — absolutely panned the Obama plan over the weekend. Rep. Paul Ryan accused the Obama administration of pursuing a "partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution," while Sen. John McCain insisted that lawmakers were "making progress on a bipartisan basis." Sen. Marco Rubio went a stage further and said the plan was "half baked and seriously flawed," even "dead on arrival."
Before the White House had the chance to explain itself, The New York Times described the leaked information as "early drafts" of an immigration bill. Obama's chief-of-staff Denis McDonough explained on Meet the Press, "We are doing exactly what we said we would do, which is we'll be prepared in the event that the bipartisan talks going on the Hill — which by the way we're very aggressively supporting — if those do not work out, then we'll have an option that we'll be ready to put out there." That option describes a new visa establishing "Lawful Prospective Immigrant" status that would let immigrants live and work in the United States and apply for legal permanent residency eight years later.
How the draft of the bill got out remains a mystery. Former Obama chief-of-staff David Axelrod did say that it was a "mistake … to disseminate [the draft] so widely in the administration that it got leaked." So maybe the Obama administration wanted it to be leaked? There's no way to know. And let us remind you that this is not an episode of House of Cards.