There came a point in Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign in which the Arizona Republican felt stuck. He’d worked with Democrats and George W. Bush on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which his party ended up rejecting. In a primary debate, McCain, running low on options, declared publicly that he would vote against his own bill.
Nearly a decade later, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) finds himself in a similar position, having worked with Democrats on a similar comprehensive immigration reform package, which his party hates even more than McCain’s 2008 bill. If he sticks to his position, the far-right senator will alienate the GOP base. If Rubio abandons his own legislation, he looks craven and weak.
At least for now, the Florida Republican hopes to resolve the problem by taking both sides simultaneously.
As of last week, Rubio had written a bipartisan reform bill, then criticized it, then voted for it, then abandoned, then bragged about having worked on it. Yesterday on “Face the Nation,” host Bob Schieffer asked the candidate, “If you became president, would you sign the bill that you put together into law?” The senator didn’t want to answer.
“Well, that’s a hypothetical that will never happen.“What I would do if I was president, the first thing I would do is, I would ask Congress to pass a very specific bill that puts in place E-Verify, an entry-exit tracking to prevent visa overstays, and improve security on the border. Once we achieve that, step two would be, we would modernize our legal immigration system, less family- based, more merit-based.“And then the third step would be to pass the bill that goes to the 10 million people that are here, or 12 million that are here illegally. If they have been for longer than a decade, they have to pass background check, they have to learn English, they have to pay taxes, they have to pay a fine. And they would get a work permit.”
Under the bill Rubio helped write, undocumented immigrants who passed a background check, learned English, paid taxes, and paid a fine would then be eligible to apply for citizenship. Under Rubio’s new position, they’d “get a work permit.”
After a “substantial period of time,” the immigrants could then apply for “legal residency,” and after an additional number of years, the pathway to citizenship would open up. In other words, Rubio’s new plan isn’t quite in line with his old one.
In the same interview, Schieffer said, “You’re Hispanic. You have a wonderful life story. You were part of that bipartisan group that put together an immigration reform bill. You voted for it and then, when you got a lot of heat from people in your own party, you walked away from it.”
Rubio quickly interjected, “[T]hat’s not an accurate assessment.”
We can have a semantics debate about the nuances of “walk away from,” but the senator’s position is a tough sell given the record. By late 2013, Rubio was already urging congressional leaders to give up on his bill, despite its broad, bipartisan support. By the summer of 2014, the Republican said the votes to pass the proposal would “never” materialize, despite the fact that the bill had already passed the Senate and appeared to have the support necessary to pass the House.
In 2014, Rubio even seemed to embrace the rhetoric of his bill’s critics, saying, “[C]alls to grant amnesty to 12 million people are unrealistic and quite frankly irresponsible.”
Does the senator really want to quibble now as to whether or not he “walked away from” the bill he used to support?
Perhaps the problem is in the wording of the question. Schieffer asked if a President Rubio would sign his own bill into law, which the guest didn’t want to answer. How about this: if Rubio’s bill was brought to the Senate floor tomorrow, would he vote for it or against it?