SHELBYVILLE — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Tuesday that President Barack Obama's plan to use executive orders to change immigration policy will "poison the well" on any future compromise, although most in Washington have concluded that well is bone dry.
Paul, who has been an outspoken opponent of expanded presidential authority, told reporters after a speech Tuesday that Obama's plan to act without Congress will "kill immigration reform and further polarize the country."
"What will happen is it will poison the well," Paul said. "It will make the atmosphere more poisonous in Washington. It will be seen as illegal by most of us on the Republican side to pass legislation with no vote in Congress."
Paul voted against the immigration overhaul bill that passed the Senate last year.
Obama said Monday that because Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives were "unwilling to stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what's best for the country," he would act unilaterally with as yet unspecified executive orders.
Anticipating criticism from lawmakers, Obama said some Republicans are "mad at me about using my executive authority too broadly."
"I don't prefer taking administrative action," Obama said. "I would rather see permanent fixes to the issue we face. Certainly, that's true on immigration. I have made that clear multiple times. I would love nothing more than bipartisan legislation to pass the House, the Senate, land on my desk, so I can sign it."
Paul, who continues to openly flirt with a presidential bid of his own in 2016, said Obama "needs to come to Capitol Hill if he wants to do things."
Kentucky's junior senator said he has a "moderate" position on what he called "forgiveness" for the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
With the rapid growth of Hispanics as a voting bloc, Republicans considering a presidential bid have a tough balance to strike as they attempt to attract new voters to the party while also appeasing hardline conservatives who oppose most immigration reform efforts that involve amnesty.
Paul has tried repeatedly in recent months to improve the party's relationship with minority groups — speaking to the Rotary Club of Shelbyville Tuesday, the senator said "you'll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me right now — Republican or Democrat."
"If we're going to be the white party, we're going to be the losing party," Paul said.
But when asked how he explains the nuance between "forgiveness" and "amnesty," Paul said that "what I would say to conservatives is that I'm about as conservative as they come."
"I'm a pretty conservative U.S. senator," Paul said. "What I would say to my friends who are conservatives is 'doing nothing is also untenable.'"
While the senator said he is "not a hardliner" on work visas or other avenues of forgiveness for immigrants already in the country illegally, he repeatedly emphasized that he is for focusing on securing the border first.
Paul blamed previous executive actions by Obama, which give certain illegal immigrants under the age of 30 a reprieve from deportation, for an influx of unaccompanied children coming across the Mexican border, which has sparked what the senator called "a humanitarian nightmare."
"Now that's become a beacon to all of Central America because we didn't secure the border," he said. "So if you don't secure the border and you offer these things of reform and forgiveness, many of which I'm for, but if you don't secure the border, then you get this humanitarian crisis and the whole world thinks they can come and no one's stopping them."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com