Published February 18, 2013
President Obama's advisers tried to put the genie back in the bottle after a leaked White House immigration plan drew outrage from Republicans who accused the president of endangering the reform push.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a key figure in immigration reform talks, was among those who slammed the president for the plan. After what was described as a draft White House proposal was first leaked in USA Today, Rubio said over the weekend it would be "dead on arrival in Congress."
By Monday, Obama insiders were walking the plan back and suggesting the leak was not intentional.
One White House official told Fox News they were "surprised" that the "draft" language was given to the press and thought the publication was "unfortunate."
"This was not the administration floating anything," the official said, adding that the White House reached out to Senate offices Saturday evening to stress their support for ongoing congressional talks.
"The president is pleased by (the) current state of progress being made by bipartisan efforts on the Hill and the administration looks forward to continuing to work with them," the official said.
David Axelrod, a top campaign adviser in 2008 and 2012 who also worked at the Obama White House, also said on MSNBC that Obama officials would probably "take it back" if they could.
He said that "the mistake here was to disseminate it so widely within the administration."
If the USA Today leak was a trial balloon, it was one that quickly deflated.
The administration's proposal, as reported Saturday, would create a visa for those in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years. The proposal also requires businesses to know the immigration status of their workers and adds more funding for border security.
But the draft plan ran the risk of giving the impression that the administration was trying to sideline an otherwise bipartisan and seemingly productive set of talks on Capitol Hill to come up with immigration legislation. Far more than gun control, immigration reform is seen as a big-ticket item that could be achieved in the next year -- if advocates can avoid the pitfalls that historically have ensnared the process.
"The president is torpedoing his own plan," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told "Fox News Sunday" following the USA Today report. "It shows me he is really not serious. ... The bill won't pass."
It also reinforced Republican concerns that the president is not interested in tying border security to any mass legalization.
Rubio called the White House proposal "half-baked and seriously flawed." Rubio -- part of an eight-member, bipartisan Senate panel working on an immigration reform bill -- also said the proposal was disappointing to those "working on serious solutions" and repeats failures of past legislation.
"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," Rubio said in a statement.
Earlier, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough downplayed the plan as merely a backup that was being drafted in case lawmakers don't come up with a bill of their own.
McDonough said Sunday that Obama wants to "be prepared" in case the small bipartisan group of senators fails to devise a plan for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down," McDonough said, adding he's optimistic they would not crumble.
In response, lawmakers assured the White House they are working on their own plan -- and warned that Obama would be heading toward failure if the White House gets ahead of them.
Fox News' Kelly Chernenkoff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.