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GOP Rep. Cole Says Obama Is Playing Politics With Immigration


All this morning, we've been getting reaction to President Obama's speech last night. In it, he outlined his plans to reform immigration by executive action. This move will give temporary legal status to millions of people who entered the country illegally. But in doing that, he's bypassing Congress. Let's hear from Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. He joins us on the line now. Representative Cole, welcome.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: Thank you. Great to be with you.

RATH: Elsewhere on a program, we heard from Cecilia Munoz, who's the president senior domestic policy adviser and architect of immigration reform. She insisted the president's action is within his powers. Temporary legal status is being given, she says, to relatives of U.S. citizens or legal U.S. residents. And she said that's within the president's powers. Is she wrong?

COLE: Well, you know, actually the president's been on both sides of this issue. For years, he told us that what he's doing now, he could not do - that that was unconstitutional. That was inappropriate. That would be counterproductive.

Since the election or in recent months, he's obviously changed his mind. He's saying, well, I can do things that I previously have told you I couldn't do. So it's hard for us to understand, you know, when were you being disingenuous? Were you being disingenuous when you told pro-immigration supporters you couldn't do this, or are you being disingenuous now when you say that you can?

RATH: Munoz also said that the president has done nowhere near what needs to be done in order to fix immigration policy. The administration is basically daring Congress to do what they think needs to be done.

COLE: Well, there, I think, we should take her up on that, and I would agree with her. There's no question there's a bipartisan agreement that the immigration system's broken. And part of it is this selective enforcement of laws by the president himself and by previous presidents. If it was up to me, in a perfect world, I would start passing measures and sending them to the White House - some of which the president would agree with - H-B1 Visa Reform. We agree on that. Actually - although, the president threatened two years ago to veto it unless he got a comprehensive bill, but we agreed. We should send him that.

Seasonal labor - we've got a good bill. I think that's an area we can work together for both agriculture, leisure industry. Border protection - there's something that actually everybody agrees on, but again, the president has been unwilling to sign unless it had everything else he wanted with it. So I think those are things that can pass the Senate with a bipartisan vote, and then we'll put them on his desk and see what he does.

In the meantime, if we think he has gone beyond - I'm not an attorney, but I do think, you know, he made the case pretty eloquently himself - why - what he's doing today at least at one time he thought was unconstitutional. That's what the courts are for, and so I suspect we should challenge the president on a variety of fronts. But that doesn't mean we should let him provoke us into doing things that are either counterproductive or not in the best interest of the American people.

RATH: Well, speaking of provoking you, I'm curious, given the timing of the president's announcement of this action, if you're concerned the president is trying to bait the new Congress into a fight that makes it look unsympathetic to immigrants and minority populations.

COLE: Oh, I don't have any doubt about that. I think he's trying, number one, to take attention away from an election that he lost very badly and where he played electoral politics with the immigration issue. I mean, I think that is the root problem. The president has been consistently political. And when it's convenient for the president to use immigration as a weapon, then he's quite happy to pick it up. When he had an opportunity to solve the problem, he chose not to do so.

RATH: Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. Thank you very much, sir.

COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.