BRUNSWICK, Ohio (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused to say in an interview that he would overturn President Barack Obama’s new policy allowing some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States.
Obama’s order has put Romney in a difficult position, forcing him to decide between possibly alienating Hispanic voters with tough talk and stoking anger within the most conservative Republicans who were slow to warm to him during the primary process to select a presidential nominee.
The candidate was asked three times in an interview Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether he would overturn the executive order issued Friday if he’s elected in November. He refused to directly answer.
“It would be overtaken by events,” Romney said when pressed for the second time by moderator Bob Schieffer during the interview taped Saturday while the former Massachusetts governor’s bus tour stopped in Pennsylvania.
He explained the order would become irrelevant “by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution, with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals such that they know what their setting is going to be, not just for the term of a president but on a permanent basis.”
Romney’s comments represent a further softening of his rhetoric on immigration since the Republican primary campaign ended. Back January, when he faced the challenge of winning over the right-wing base of his party, he pledged to veto legislation backed by Democrats that would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Instead of emphasizing the plight of illegal immigrants, Romney focused on the consequences illegal immigration has for U.S. jobs.
Obama’s immigration announcement disrupted the start of Romney’s five-day bus tour through small cities and towns in six important states.
Romney has tried to focus his campaign on America’s slow economic recovery, a potential weakness for Obama amid stubbornly high unemployment. But Obama’s announcement forced Romney to veer from the jobs-and-economy talking points with which he is most comfortable.
In the TV interview, Romney suggested that Obama’s decision on immigration was motivated by politics. The order bypasses Congress, including the Republican-controlled House.
“If he felt seriously about this he should have taken action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, but he didn’t. He saves these sort of things until four and a half months before the general election,” Romney said.
Obama adviser David Plouffe, sent by the White House to four television talk shows, contended that Obama’s action, which appeals to Hispanic voters who are critical to the president’s re-election effort, was not “a political move.”
Still, Plouffe acknowledged that Obama’s team expects an extraordinarily close election. “It’s going to come down to a few votes per precinct in a few states,” Plouffe said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. His comment underscores the reality that a small number of extra votes from Hispanics could make the difference in some key states like Nevada and Colorado.
The Obama administration said the policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. Obama’s move partially achieves the goals of the Democrats’ long-stalled legislation aimed at young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned an equivalent diploma or certificate, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
Romney’s broadcast interview, conducted Saturday, touched on a variety of topics, from the European financial crisis to Obama’s health care law aimed at extending insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans.
Romney said that the American banking sector “is able to weather the storm” in Europe. He said European countries are capable of dealing with their mess “if they choose to do so” and the U.S. doesn’t want to get into the business of bailing out foreign banks. Romney also does not favor another round of economic stimulus by the Federal Reserve, saying a previous one didn’t have the desired effect.
The former Massachusetts governor, whose health care plan for the state served as the model for the national health reform law, outlined steps he’d take if the Supreme Court strikes the Obama administration’s bill down. On Iran, Romney said he would be willing to “take military action if necessary” to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power.
Associated Press Writer Kasie Hunt contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.