By Dan Nowicki The Republic | Sat Nov 23, 2013 10:09 PM

Republican governors who gathered in Phoenix last week for their annual conference did their best to distance themselves from their congressional GOP counterparts and Capitol Hill political dysfunction.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cited immigration reform as an example of Washington’s failure to deal with major issues.

Speaking Thursday at a news conference at the Republican Governors Association meeting at the Phoenician resort, Christie said the broken U.S. immigration system “has an effect on the people of our states, on the economies of our states” and needs a solution.

Christie declined to endorse specifics of a legislative remedy, such as a pathway to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who have settled in the United States. He said it is up to President Barack Obama and Congress to figure out a compromise, just as he has to do in dealing with the Democrat-controlled New Jersey Legislature.

“The inaction down there on this problem, a problem that we’ve all seen for years, is just unacceptable,” Christie said. “They’ve got work to do. Get to work and start to fix the problems.”

Christie, who earlier this month won a second term in his traditional blue state, is a top GOP presidential prospect for 2016. He was the focus of most of the media attention at the four-day RGA conference, which also included a surprise Thursday appearance by former President George W. Bush at a private governors lunch. Also on Thursday, Christie became RGA chairman for the 2014 election year, a role that will give him additional national exposure.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose parents came from India, shared Christie’s sense of urgency about the immigration situation. The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate this year passed a comprehensive bipartisan reform package, but it was declared dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Though House Republicans have talked for months about acting on a series of smaller immigration-related bills, none has come to the floor this year.

“At some point, D.C. needs to actually do something, say something,” said Haley, who also did not offer an opinion on details such as a path to citizenship. “It is causing a divide across this country, the longer they put off making a decision.”

Others at the Phoenix gathering offered varying views on immigration reform.

Some, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, advocated for securing the border first, which for years has been a common Republican refrain.

“You could do a 21st-century, modern, guest-worker program without amnesty and solve the problem going forward for this country,” added Pence, a former U.S. representative.

Perry, who unsuccessfully sought the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, predicted that the immigration-reform discussion will eventually resolve itself due to energy-policy reforms that he suggests will reinvent Mexico’s economy. Mexicans now living without authorization in the United States will go home to better jobs, he said.

“Listen, I think the issue is you secure the border first and then you can have the conversation about immigration reform,” Perry said Wednesday. “And, again, I think immigration reform is going to be very passé. It’s going to be part of the past.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another possible 2016 candidate, complained that Republicans in Washington, D.C., too often are “defined as the party of ‘no’ ” and called for the GOP to do a better job “offering detailed, principled solutions to the issues the American people care about.”

When asked if the House Republicans missed an opportunity to offer a GOP immigration solution, Jindal said he won’t participate in what he deemed “Republican fratricide.” But he said “plenty of Republicans in D.C.” are frustrated and agree they should be doing more on immigration and other big issues.

“You can get all sorts of Republicans to criticize other Republicans. I’m not interested in that,” Jindal said. “I am interested in saying, and I do think, that absolutely, as the Republican Party, we need to be advancing solutions.”

Christie and Haley both indicated that they would not hesitate to criticize Capitol Hill Republicans if criticism is merited.

“I think there are no saints in Washington right now,” Haley said. “Republicans and Democrats have royally screwed this up.”

For that reason, Haley said the next Republican presidential standard-bearer should come from the ranks of the governors, not Congress.

“What I always think is important are results, and it’s really hard for somebody out of D.C. to prove results when they can’t even stay open,” she said, in an apparent reference to the recent partial federal government shutdown.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another potential White House contender, also said the GOP’s strength lies with the governors.

“You know, it’s pretty interesting, isn’t it, that people talk about the Republican brand and what people tend to forget is we’ve got 30 Republican governors,” Kasich said Wednesday. “There’s not a better way to figure out who people favor than to look inside the states.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who also is widely viewed as a possible 2016 GOP hopeful, did not attend the conference.