Nightly News   |  February 17, 2013

Obama’s leaked immigration bill inflames debate

Republican Senator Marco Rubio and others in the GOP criticizing the president for crafting immigration plan with no bipartisan input, NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> bipartisan effort to craft a way forward on immigration reform hit a bump in the road today when a story hit saying that the obama administration had already written up a plan of its own. that upset many republicans and sent the white house and democrats into damage control. nbc's kristen welker is in port st. lucie tonight with more on that. kristen ?

>> reporter: lester, good evening. president obama has long said if congress can't come up with an immigration reform bill, he will submit his own proposal to the hill. but now that leaked copy of his plan is inflaming an already heated debate. while president obama vacationing in florida hit the links with tiger woods in this palm city community, the immigration debate got a fresh jolt when " usa today " reported on a leaked copy of the president's immigration proposal. according to the paper, the draft bill would create a new lawful prospective immigrant visa that would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents in eight years and the plan would boost border security funding and require employers to check immigration status of new hires.

>> good evening.

>> reporter: that drew sharp criticism from republican senator marco rubio , a key figure in the bipartisan group working on immigration reform . in a statement, he said, "if actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come."

>> well, let's make sure it doesn't have to be proposed.

>> reporter: today, white house chief of staff dennis mcdonough doned the report, insisting you the president has not put a bill forward yet, hoping that congress will act first.

>> we will be prepared in the event that the bipartisan talks going on the hill, which, by the way, were very aggressively supporting, if those do not work out, then we will have an option that will be ready to put out there.

>> reporter: but republicans suggested the white house was playing politics.

>> leaking this out does set things in the wrong direction.

>> this raises the question that many of us continue to wonder about. does the president really want a result or does he want another cunning jill to beat up republicans?

>> reporter: democratic senator chuck schumer tried tamp down tensions over the leaked report.

>> we have talked to senator rubio and he is fully on board with our process and i am very hopeful that in march, we will have a bipartisan bill.

>> reporter: that bipartisan group of senators continues to work on immigration reform but passage remains uncertain with lawmakers sharply divided over a number of key issues, including a path to citizenship. lester?

>> kristen , i want to talk to you about another major issue. we ended the week with president's nomination of chuck hagel as defense secretary on hold were do thing goes from here?

>> reporter: well, on "meet the press," senator john mccain said while he doesn't believe hagel is qualified, he also doesn't believe his nomination process should be held up any longer. the full senate is expected to vote on hagel when it reconvenes next week.

>> kristen welker tonight. thank you.