John McCain and Marco Rubio weren't going to follow President Barack Obama's lead.
When the White House announced that Obama would open a campaign for immigration reform with an event in Las Vegas Tuesday, the Republican senators and their bipartisan working group decided to rush out their plan ahead of him on Monday, according to sources familiar with the effort.
This game of leap frog was a preview of the personal politics that undergird the push this year to overhaul the immigration system.
Whether he likes it or not, the president's top legislative priority rests in the hands of McCain, his former 2008 rival, and Rubio, one of the GOP's leading candidates to take back the White House in 2016. That means the odds of passing a bill depend on whether the key players can not only resolve major policy differences but navigate the tricky dynamics among them.
The long-term stakes are enormous. For Obama, it's about cementing his party's lock on the Hispanic vote and finally making good on an unfilled campaign promise from his first run. For McCain and Rubio, it's about redeeming their party with one of the country's fastest-growing voting blocs whose alienation threatens to freeze Republicans out of the White House for years to come.
Both parties want Latino voters to give them the credit for solving the problem -- or at the very least, absolve them of the blame if nothing comes to pass. At the same time, Obama, McCain and Rubio each face a crucial calculation of their own -- how much jockeying they're going to do and how much credit they'll be willing to share across their personal and political divides to get the deal they all say they want done.
There was a lot of talk Monday of bipartisan momentum, as McCain and Rubio joined Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez in announcing a set of principles on reforming immigration, and the White House welcomed it as a helpful development.
But in reality, each side -- Republicans and Democrats, Obama and Congress -- is watching the other warily, judging motives and pre-empting moves in hopes of gaining the upper hand. The Senate group jumped ahead of the president, one Senate Republican aide involved in the process said, because their proposal would've been "lost in the noise."
"If you wait, it is like an afterthought," the aide said, describing it as a group decision.
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