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McConnell Says Politics Behind U.S. Immigration Suit

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The most blatant political move made lately was the administration’s decision to sue the state of Arizona and thereby heightening this issue even further.” Photographer: Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama’s lawsuit challenging Arizona’s immigration law was a “blatant political move” to help his re-election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview.

The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department “was more designed to help him in 2012 than it was to benefit the Democrats” in the 2010 midterm elections, McConnell said today in an interview in Washington.

Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked provisions requiring Arizona police to make a “reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of people they stop and to detain those suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. The judge ruled that Arizona’s law usurped exclusively federal enforcement powers.

Asked about the lawsuit’s political effect, McConnell said, “The most blatant political move made lately was the administration’s decision to sue the state of Arizona and thereby heightening this issue even further.”

“For those who believe that’s a long-term benefit for the Democrats,” he said, “that may have been what they had in mind.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, asked today about McConnell’s comments, said the president’s “decisions are made on what’s best for the country, not politics.”

‘Patchwork’ Concern

Gibbs said Obama and Justice Department lawyers “were concerned about the law creating a patchwork” of immigration policies in the country. The decision to challenge the law “wasn’t an argument that was based on anything other than legal argument,” he said.

“If you look at the polling on this particular decision, the numbers aren’t exactly with us,” Gibbs said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said, “As we made clear in court filings, the department identified constitutional defects in the Arizona law, primarily that key provisions were preempted because they conflicted with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy, and a federal judge agreed with that argument.”

McConnell also said Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who is chairwoman of the congressional panel monitoring the federal bank bailout, “would be a very controversial nominee” to lead a new consumer protection agency created by the financial regulation law.

Derby Winner

Asked if he had a preference for whom Obama should appoint, the Kentucky senator laughed and said, “No, I did have a winner on the Derby this year.”

McConnell declined to join a call by House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio to repeal the financial regulation measure if Republicans take control of both houses of Congress in the November election.

“We’d like to make some adjustments,” McConnell said, to the law that will implement the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. financial market regulation since the Great Depression. “Truth in packaging was lacking on that bill,” he said.

“The problem is this bill, that was sold as doing something about Wall Street, basically impacts Main Street,” he said, pointing to authorization given the consumer protection bureau to create 350 regulations that will affect small banks.

Health-Care Law

The health-care law passed earlier this year “ought to be repealed and replaced” with measures targeted at cutting costs, McConnell said. Still, it “would be very difficult to achieve” for a Republican-controlled Congress as long as Obama remains in office, he said.

The health-care law is “a toxic issue” for Democrats “and will be used in campaigns around the country by Republicans,” he said.

McConnell said Republicans “are looking forward” to a debate later this year over Democrats’ plans to extend tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 for middle-class Americans while allowing those for wealthier people to expire at year’s end. Republicans want to extend all of the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush.

What Democrats are “advocating is raising taxes on the top two brackets, which covers roughly 50 percent of small-business income and approximately 25 percent of the workforce in the middle of the recession,” McConnell said. “We think raising taxes in the middle of a recession is exactly the wrong thing to do.”

Extending All Cuts

Some Democrats, notably Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, favor extending all of the tax cuts. Democrats and Obama have proposed extending the tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families with incomes of less than $250,000.

The war in Afghanistan won’t become an issue in the November elections because opposition to Obama’s policy comes from “certain elements of the Democratic Party,” McConnell said. He noted that 102 House Democrats voted against a $60 billion war spending bill passed last month.

Also voting “no” on the measure, which passed 308-114, were 12 Republicans.

Republicans “don’t intend to make the Afghanistan war a political football,” McConnell said. Obama “is doing the right thing.”

‘Good Day’

He said he liked his party’s prospects in the November congressional elections. “If the election were held tomorrow, we would have a good day,” he said. The public has “largely decided” that Obama and Democrats who control Congress took the country in “the wrong direction.”

Democrats won’t be able run against Bush “one more time,” as they did in 2006 and 2008 because swing voters “are not buying the notion” that the nation’s 9.5 percent unemployment and slow economic growth “is somehow George Bush’s fault,” McConnell said.

“This fall election will be about the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “No one doubts who’s in charge and everyone can review the results.”

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