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Sununu Sees Republicans Giving Undocumented Legal Status

A new U.S. citizen holds an American flag during a naturalization ceremony at the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images
A new U.S. citizen holds an American flag during a naturalization ceremony at the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- A former Republican senator predicted House Republicans will pass legislation this year offering undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. legal status to remain in the country.

Former New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend that he expected the Republican-controlled House to pass immigration legislation that includes “some sort of pathway for those that are illegal today to become legal. Citizens, maybe, maybe not.”

Former White House senior adviser David Plouffe derided the possibility of legal residency rather than full citizenship as “a second-class citizen situation.”

“Part of the reason the Republican Party is hemorrhaging with Latino voters is this attitude,” Plouffe said in an interview for the same program. “These people are, you know, our neighbors. They’re working in our economy.”

Immigration legislation backed by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate in June includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. after improved border security measures are put in place. The bill also would require employers to verify employment by using E-Verify, revamp the visa system to increase high-skilled labor sought by technology firms and add temporary worker visas for longer-term jobs and seasonal agricultural positions.

House Resistance

House leaders say they won’t take up the comprehensive Senate bill. Instead, they’re discussing options for piecemeal measures, talks that will continue at the Republicans’ annual retreat this month, a leadership aide said.

Sununu said he expects the House will pass a series of smaller measures that include provisions addressing border security, agricultural workers and high-tech visas.

Addressing the president’s signature health-care law, Plouffe, an architect of Obama’s two presidential campaigns, expressed confidence that Democratic senators running for re-election in November would see at least some improvement in public attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know if it’ll be much more popular,” Plouffe said. “It’ll be a little more popular, simply because a lot of people will be signed up. I think that reality will change the politics a little bit.”

“It’s hard to imagine it getting any worse,” Sununu said of public reaction to a program that suffered a flawed Oct. 1 rollout of health-care exchanges offering coverage to millions of uninsured Americans under the law. “But I don’t think it’s going to get a lot better.”

Obamacare Enrollment

About 2.1 million people have signed up for private health insurance plans through online exchanges created by Obamacare and 3.9 million people are newly enrolled in the U.S. Medicaid program for the poor that was expanded under the law.

The first open enrollment period for private plans doesn’t end until March 31.

Polls have regularly shown the public unhappy with the health law since it was passed in 2010. Forty-eight percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of the law versus 34 percent with a favorable view, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken Dec. 10-15.

Republicans are attempting to make a midterm election campaign issue of the health-care program.

“The Republicans -- this is a trap for them, in a way,” Plouffe, currently a contributor to Bloomberg Television, said. “They’re obsessed with this. The American electorate knows they’re obsessed with it.”

‘Wishful Thinking’

“That’s really wishful thinking,” Sununu said.

The two also parted ways over which party will lead the Senate after the November elections.

Sununu predicted that the Democratic-controlled Senate will turn to a 51-49 Republican majority after the elections.

“This is a second-term, off-year election for the president,” the former senator said. “Presidents in power, his party tends to fare very poorly in these elections.”

Plouffe said: “My sense is that we hold onto the Senate.” He added: “The Senate, I think, is going to be very close. I agree, it’s going to be in the 50, 51, 52 range.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at

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