Sen. Barack Obama, D-Il, is standing by his support for granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, even after Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-NY, abandoned the proposal amidst rising political opposition.
"Obama said in the debate he supported it and he's standing by it," an aide to the Senator told the Huffington Post. "He supported a similar bill in the state senate as a law enforcement measure."
Obama's backing stands in stark contrast to the position taken by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, whose campaign now cites the issue as a basic policy difference between the two Democratic frontrunners.
Earlier today, Clinton applauded Spitzer's decision to take the measure off the table. "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration, including border security and fixing our broken system," she said in a statement.
Spitzer's withdrawal of the hotly-contested proposal, and Clinton's subsequent support of his decision, sparked a fierce back-and-forth between the two leading Democratic presidential candidates. This afternoon, Obama's spokesman Bill Burton pressed the perception that Clinton is reluctant to take tough stances on this and other issues.
"When it takes two weeks and six different positions to answer one question on immigration," he said, "it's easy to understand why the Clinton campaign would rather plant their questions than answer them."
In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon to the Huffington Post, Clinton spokesperson Phil Singer shot back:
"It's unfortunate that the other campaigns are employing hot rhetoric, but there are basic differences between the candidates: Sen. Clinton would not give driver's licenses to undocumented people, Senator Obama would, and nobody seems to know what Senator Edwards believes on the issue."
The issue of whether to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants was thrust into the 2008 campaign two weeks ago during the Democratic presidential debate at Drexel University. Clinton said, at the time, that she supported Spitzer's desire to provide safety and security on New York's roads but not necessarily the proposal itself. Obama said, as he does now, that he supported the measure, while Edwards said he could not support it in the absence of more comprehensive immigration reform.
Spitzer announced this morning that he was dropping the plan because he believed it stood little or no chance of being passed into law.
"I've concluded that New York state cannot conduct this program on its own," the governor said. "It does not take a stethoscope to hear the pulse of New Yorkers on this topic."