Count newly-installed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) among those who think Donald Trump’s pledge to deport 12 million illegal immigrants is an unworkable pipe-dream.
When asked on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday if he agreed with the Republican presidential frontrunner’s vow to round up those in the country illegally and send them back to their home countries, Ryan said “No, I do not. I can’t imagine how it could happen, so no.”
Instead, Ryan stuck to his previous stance calling for a pathway that would let an illegal immigrant “earn” legal status, which he said would be a “way to make amends with the law — effectively going on probation, and earn your way to legal status, but not to citizenship.”
The Wisconsin Republican noted that while working with President Obama on the issue was a non-starter, he would cooperate on highway spending, funding the government and tax policy.
Ryan said that any immigration policy should first start with border enforcement and “enforcing the rule of law.”
“But you need to have a vibrant, legal immigration system. Legal immigration is America. My name’s Ryan,” he added.
Immigration has become the biggest wedge issue in the crowded GOP presidential primary, thanks to Trump’s idea to deport millions of people. While he has come under increasing pressure to provide details about how his plan would work and how much it would cost, the issue now dominates the Republican campaign.
Following last week’s presidential debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) – both of whom have seen their poll numbers rise dramatically in recent weeks -- bickered back and forth for days through the media over who has the more conservative stance on the issue.
GOP leaders are worried the heated rhetoric will cost them the Hispanic vote in next year’s election, thus keeping the White House in Democratic hands.
Trump’s comments certainly have fired up the liberal base. During Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley called the billionaire an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker,” drawing the biggest applause of the night.
With his measured tone and offer of some kind of reform, Ryan – a devout policy wonk and the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee – could provide an alternate narrative on immigration for his party, something Trump’s presidential rivals have been unwilling or unable to offer.
In addition to his remarks on immigration, Ryan said he’s ready to lose the speaker’s gavel if it means making progress on major policy initiatives, such as entitlement reform and rewriting the U.S. tax code.
He said House Republicans as a conference have not yet decided whether to back raising the retirement age for full Social Security and Medicare benefits.
"I have always believed, and I've been public about this for many years, for younger people, when they age, we should change the retirement age to reflect longevity," according to Ryan. "And the good news on these issues is that if we reform them for the next generation now, we can guarantee that people in or near retirement don't have any changes in their benefits."
He said he still intends to work toward "dramatically" simplifying the tax code and “collapse” rates to just a few brackets.