Spin Cycle

06.17.12

Romney Dances on Immigration

Bob Schieffer keeps asking, Mitt keeps circling away

Mitt Romney sure knows how to dance.

I don’t know how he is out on the floor with Ann, but he’s got some fancy footwork when he wants to evade an interviewer’s question. 

During Romney’s first non-Fox Sunday morning interview of the campaign, Bob Schieffer asked him four times on Face the Nation about President Obama’s decision to stop deporting hundreds of thousands of younger illegal immigrants.

First time: “Well, let’s step back”—there’s the dance move—and we have to “secure the border” and have “an employment verification system” and “see some proposals brought forward by Senator Marco Rubio and by Democrat senators.”

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Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Schieffer again: "Well, what would you do about it?"

Romney said Obama “was president for the last three and a half years, did nothing on immigration.” Fair point, but non-responsive, as the lawyers say.

Schieffer’s third attempt: “Sure, but would you repeal this?”

Romney: “Well, it would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution.”

Nice try, but Schieffer wasn’t buying:

“Just to make sure I understand, would you leave this in place while you worked out a long-term solution or would you just repeal it?”

Romney: “We’ll-- we'll look at that-- we'll look at that setting as we-- as we reach that.”

Kudos to Schieffer for not giving up, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on here.

Romney doesn’t want to come out against leniency for those brought here illegally when they were under 16, who have since graduated high school or served in the military and are now under 30. He is trailing by as much as 3 to 1 among Hispanic voters. He got himself in a box during the Republican primaries by taking a hard line on illegal immigrants, calling on them to “self-deport” and vowing to veto the DREAM Act, among other things. He wants to edge back toward the center, but Obama has just blocked the easiest path, which would be wrapping himself around whatever Rubio proposes.

I thought the president’s move—an obvious election-year gambit--would spark an explosion on the Republican right. But the reaction has been muted, even on Fox News. That tells me that in purely political terms, Obama has outmaneuvered the opposition by putting a young face on the politically divisive immigration problem. Hence the Romney two-step.

Footnote: I spoke yesterday with Jose Antonio Vargas, the illegal immigrant and former Washington Post and Huffington Post reporter who wrote about his decision to come out in Time. You can see the video here.