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Arizona Decision Keeps Issue Alive for November

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Mike Lee leaves the Supreme Court on Monday after the justices rendered a split decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law, handing President Barack Obama a partial victory.

Republicans continued to struggle to find their voice on an issue that has pitted their electoral goal of appealing to Hispanics against the need to satisfy base voters who support strong immigration enforcement measures.

Romney issued a brief statement asserting his belief in states’ rights and “duty” in helping to secure the border while generically attacking Obama. His campaign spokesman repeatedly declined to comment on the particulars of the Arizona law or the court decision, however.

Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to respond directly to the decision.

A Boehner spokesman said he was reviewing the ruling, and a spokesman for McConnell pointed to comments from Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, who signed on to an amicus brief in favor of the state law.

The Arizona Republicans issued a statement saying they wanted to fully review the decision.

“We believe Arizonans are better served when state and federal officials work as partners to protect our citizens rather than as litigants in a courtroom,” they wrote.

It’s the second straight week that immigration has forced GOP leaders off their message that Obama has failed to turn the economy around.

Republicans last week struggled to respond to Obama’s decision to end deportations of many young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children; Romney and GOP leaders still haven’t said whether they should be deported. But Romney said during the primaries that he would veto the DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrant children who go to college or join the military.

Some Republicans did speak out Monday. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) said states lost out in the court decision, and “to add insult to injury, the Obama administration followed up the case with a knockout punch that could send Arizona reeling backwards on immigration enforcement and border security.”

Rep. Steve King (Iowa) proposed legislation that would give states more rights to crack down on illegal immigration.

Without a Boehner statement on the ruling, it was not clear whether that proposal or any other similar bills would see floor time this year.

Most Republicans would much rather be talking about the economy.

In “this presidential race, immigration will be an issue, but the economy and jobs is such a major thing on people’s minds,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) said. “You are not going to find the candidates for president speaking too much about immigration. If you’re running for office, you have to talk about the things that the people in this country want you to talk about.”

McCain was more blunt: “It’s very clear that we are losing a very large section of the Hispanic vote. I think that’s a fact.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said he’s not sure whether Democrats will try to bring up the DREAM Act or other immigration legislation in order to maintain the spotlight.

The Illinois Democrat said the problem is the GOP-run House, which he said is not interested in bringing up any immigration measure.

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