Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu stands at the podium on the abbreviated… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )
Republicans hope to use their convention to spotlight some of the party’s rising Latino stars -- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Senate hopeful Ted Cruz of Texas all have prominent speaking roles.
But at Monday’s news briefing for Spanish-language press, the headliner was neither rising nor Latino, but John H. Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff in George H.W. Bush’s White House.
Despite his Palestinian and Lebanese ancestry, Sununu speaks fairly fluent Spanish by virtue of his mother’s birth in El Salvador and his childhood in Havana. At 73, he has actively campaigned for Mitt Romney. Monday, he showed off his bilingual ability in defending Romney’s record on immigration and attacking President Obama for having presided over a stagnant economy that, Sununu said, had hurt Latino families.
But the main subject reporters asked about was the GOP’s stance on immigration -- a subject that has driven a large wedge between the party and Latino voters.
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Asked in Spanish how a Romney administration might handle young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, Sununu suggested that Romney might support a law to protect them – something that Romney himself has not said. Earlier this summer, before Obama announced his administration’s new policy, Rubio said he was trying to round up support among Republicans for a measure that would provide some type of legal status for the so-called Dream Act young people. Romney conspicuously did not endorse the idea.
Sununu appeared to take a step toward that. “We need to do something by law,” not just executive action, he said in Spanish. What one president does by executive action, a later president could undo, he noted.
“I think that if he becomes president, Mitt Romney understands that he needs to speak with people, with Sen. Rubio and other people that understand all the complexities of this situation. We need to make significant steps -- but step by step,” he said. “This problem cannot be solved in one strike.”
When the questioner -- a reporter from the Telemundo network -- noted that the Republican platform does not offer any protection to undocumented students and other young people, Sununu replied, again in Spanish, “But it doesn’t say they won’t give it to them.”
He then mentioned two other aspects of the Republican platform on immigration -- an expanded guest worker program and a larger number of visas for legal entry. Those two steps, along with the situation of the young people, are the “three most important things” to be fixed, he said.
Responding to a subsequent question in English about immigration policy, Sununu was slightly less explicit about the so-called Dream Act youngsters.
Romney has “made it clear that there’s a whole series of steps that have to be taken,” Sununu said. “One is the expanded guest worker program, one is the expanded program for visas.
And “one is to deal with the young people who came here through no fault of their own,” he said.
“I actually believe that what you have to do is move with a series of steps that create confidence on both sides of what is a very difficult and emotional issue,” he continued. To do that will require a “comprehensive package addressing the problems,” he said.
“Those components coming together have a strong possibility of becoming law. But the most important thing to get a law is to have a president who knows how to lead.”