4 open questions about Clinton's new immigration push

Washington (CNN)Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came out Tuesday squarely in favor of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration -- and advocated going even further.

But while immigration reform activists are praising her position as politically savvy, Republicans are calling it politically expedient -- and promising that Clinton won't have the upper hand on the issue in the upcoming presidential race.
In fact, some believe Clinton's comments could be turned into a political weakness for her in the long run. Here are four questions from Republicans hoping to do just that.

    Is Hillary poisoning the well on comprehensive reform?

    Republicans are already arguing that Clinton's comments don't just signal a lack of interest in comprehensive reform -- they could undermine any hopes of achieving it if she's elected President.
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    "By coming out this way, she'll make things worse in the long run," said Daniel Garza, executive director of the GOP-backed pro-immigration reform group the LIBRE Initiative.
    They point to President Obama's executive actions as evidence. Critics say his initial threats to move forward with unilateral action on immigration -- and his decision to eventually follow through on those threats -- poisoned relations with Congress and made it impossible for lawmakers to reach any legislative solution. A President Clinton presiding over what could very well be a GOP-led Congress would have to grapple with mistrust prompted by her promises of executive action on day one.
    "You have to have an ability to persuade, to negotiate, to coalesce people and that's where Barack Obama has failed," Garza said.
    And similar to Obama's executive actions, critics warn that whatever moves Clinton takes unilaterally could be easily stymied by the courts. That means her solution wouldn't only be simply short-term, but could be rolled back, leaving Latinos with greater uncertainty than before.
    "Republicans are committed to seeking a permanent solution to the crisis we have in America, not these arbitrary, short-term fixes," Garza said.

    Is it yet another transparent shift by Clinton?

    Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership, a pro-reform GOP group, said Clinton's comments simply offered a stark contrast with Republican lawmakers who had actually worked to move immigration reform, like Sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.
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    "I didn't know Hillary was a leader on immigration," he said. "When she was in the Senate, Hillary didn't do or say anything -- she had the votes, but this was something she paid little attention to."
    "She was silent -- and I think Latino voters are going to see through that," he added.
    Critics argue her shift on the issue is just the latest example of Clinton's tendency to blow with the political winds. She recently called for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, a shift from her previous position that the issue should be left up to the courts. Clinton also came out in support of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, another change in position.
    And her comments on Tuesday offer her most aggressive embrace of action on immigration yet. They were a notable leap forward from her 2008 nomination fight, when she said she supported a pathway to legalization and pledged to do it within her first 100 days of taking office.
    That was the attack, in fact, from a spokeswoman for one of Clinton's likely Democratic primary opponents, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. In response to Clinton's comments, spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement that O'Malley "stood up when it mattered."
    "When most leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties were saying that we should close our border to children fleeing violence in Central America, he defied them and said that we could not send children 'back to certain death,'" she said, an unspoken reference to Clinton's comments that those children "should be sent back."
    "He was criticized for that position, but leadership is about forging public opinion, not following it," Smith said.

    What could a President Clinton actually do unilaterally?

    Fueling the GOP argument that Clinton's comments were made out of political expedience is the fact that it's not even clear what concrete steps she could actually take under the law that go beyond Obama's.
    His executive actions protect the parents and family members of legal residents or American citizens from deportation. But Clinton promised Tuesday to "go even further" if elected, floating the possibility of creating "a simple, straightforward and accessible way for parents of DREAMers and others with a history of service and contribution to their communities to make their case and be eligible for the same deferred action as their children."
    But the Clinton campaign hasn't offered a legal defense for such an expansion of executive authority, and the White House suggested she may have none. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during Wednesday's press briefing that the president "was determined to use as much authority as he could" with his executive actions.
    Pressed on whether going farther would be illegal, Earnest said only: "There may be a legal explanation that they have that you should ask (the Clinton campaign) about."
    The campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
    Garza said that there's no way for Clinton to go farther than Obama and uphold the Constitution.
    "There is a contradiction there. She can't have it both ways," he said.

    What is the GOP position on immigration?

    Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said on CNBC Monday that "not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one."
    "When they talk about 'legal status,' that's code for 'second-class status,'" he added.
    Jeb Bush challenged on immigration.
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      Jeb Bush challenged on immigration.


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    But the GOP position is not as black and white as the Clinton campaign would like. Rubio did, in fact, once support a pathway to citizenship, and said as recently as last week he'd back a pathway to permanent residency. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, has said he supports "earned legal status" for illegal immigrants and previously has also supported a pathway to citizenship.
    And the 2014 midterms proved Republicans have gained some ground with Latino voters, and they're hoping to build on that for 2016. A Pew Research Center review of exit polling data found Republicans captured a larger share of the Latino vote in 2014 than they did in 2012. Thirty-six percent of Latinos nationwide voted Republican, and in some states the percentage of Latinos voting Republican was as high as 40%.
    Republicans, realizing the political necessity of appealing to Latinos, would strike a better tone than Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" proposal in 2012, Aguilar promised.
    "The narrative that you're going to hear during the primary on immigration is going to be very different from four years ago, going to be much more positive, and many of the candidates are supportive of some form of legalization," he said. "I think they know they have to be better on the issue of immigration."
    But Aguilar had one caveat: They have to actually make the case, or else the battle for Latino voters is Clinton's to win "by default."
    "Now it's up to Republicans to be constructive," he said. "But if they're not, if they focus on border security alone, then I think Latino voters are going to go by default for Hillary Clinton."