Marco Rubio dropping election-year plan for GOP Dream Act

In the latest aftershock from President Obama’s move to bar the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has apparently abandoned his plan to offer a conservative alternative to the Dream Act.

Rubio, a Cuban American often mentioned as a potential running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said Obama’s announcement last Friday had probably killed his own legislative effort, at least until after the 2012 election.

Rubio said it would be hard to argue with fellow lawmakers when they say to him: “Why are we going to need to do anything on this now? It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election.” The first-term senator made the comment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Neil King.

Blaming Obama may be a convenient escape hatch for Rubio, who has struggled for months, without success, to develop an alternative that could gain broad support. Many in his own party remain deeply opposed to doing anything that would smack of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and Democrats are already on record in favor of a plan that would provide a clear path to U.S. citizenship.

Romney is attempting to narrow Obama’s advantage among Latino voters, after spending the primary season running to the right of his main GOP rivals on the immigration issue. Polls have shown the president with a lead over Romney among Latinos even larger than Obama’s lopsided advantage over John McCain in the 2008 election.

In an effort to reach out to Latinos, Romney has repeatedly sought cover from Rubio, a charismatic young conservative.

In recent months, Romney had hinted that he would back a Rubio proposal to help young, undocumented immigrants—assuming the senator could come up with one that gained wide Republican support—while declining to discuss the issue in detail. Last Friday, after Rubio responded coolly to Obama by warning that the president was making it harder, rather than easier, to resolve the problem, Romney echoed Rubio’s words in commenting publicly on the president’s move for the first time.

Republicans have pounded Obama for what they say was an election-year ploy designed to curry favor with an influential voter bloc that had been souring on the president.

At least initially, the decision has boosted Obama’s standing with Latino voters in key states, a new poll indicated. It also put Romney in the awkward position of refusing to outline an alternative, even as he accused Obama of playing politics with the issue.

The president’s administrative move was a short-term attempt to accomplish some of the objectives of the Dream Act—a proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants—that has been blocked by congressional Republicans since 2010.

Rubio’s alternative would probably have stopped short of offering a clear path to citizenship—which opponents object to as a form of amnesty for lawbreakers—while allowing Republicans to go on record in favor of many of the Dream Act’s overall objectives.

On Friday, after Obama’s decision was announced, Rubio tried to walk a tightrope by reaffirming his support for “the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own,” while at the same time criticizing the president for a move that, according to the senator, had made it harder to achieve that goal without encouraging illegal immigration in the future.

But his failure to put forward a Republican alternative is likely to underscore the wide gap between the party’s dominant conservative base and the need to improve the GOP’s standing with Latino voters. Romney has spoken with concern about his party’s future in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, and in which Latinos are the fastest growing minority.

“We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party,” Romney told supporters at a Florida fundraising event this spring, warning that the increasing Democratic trend among Latinos “spells doom for us.”

Rubio, whose autobiography, “An American Son,” is being published Tuesday, has been making the rounds of media interviews to promote it.

He is scheduled to speak Friday to the annual convention of a major Latino organization, the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), on the same day as Obama. Romney is to address the group the previous day.

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