MIAMI — GOP presidential contender John McCain on Monday challenged his campaign rivals in the party to either get behind the pending Senate immigration bill or come up with an alternative.
The Arizona senator also accused fellow Republican candidates of "pandering for votes" by contesting the proposal. Although he didn't mention names, the charge was seen as a jab at his chief rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
"There is one premise most of us agree on: The status quo is unacceptable," said McCain, speaking before the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in Coral Gables. "No critic of our bill has offered a serious proposal to round up all these millions. Our economy needs them. Ask any orange grower, restaurant manager or hotel owner in Florida.
"Pandering for votes on this issue, while offering no solution to the problem, amounts to doing nothing, and doing nothing is silent amnesty," he said. "The choice is between doing something imperfect but effective and achievable and doing nothing."
McCain, who helped craft the controversial Senate bill, faces increased hostility in his own party for supporting it.
Besides granting "Z" visas to most illegal immigrants, the bill would start a two-year guest worker program and reduce family-sponsored visa petitions in favor of a merit system. It also would require employers to conduct more checks on workers' immigration status.
Democrats largely have lined up behind the plan, but several conservative politicians have blasted the legalization provision as "amnesty."
McCain argued the bill was not an amnesty because it levied heavy penalties on illegal immigrants, requiring them to pay taxes and pass background checks.