As Rubio goes wobbly, immigration deal nears

As Rubio goes wobbly, immigration deal nears
As Rubio goes wobbly, immigration deal nears
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For proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, it was a very good weekend. Perhaps most notably, a dispute between labor and business groups over the provisions of a guest-worker program, which threatened to scuttle the larger agreement, was resolved.

The nation’s top business and labor groups have reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said on Saturday. The deal clears the path for broad immigration legislation to be introduced when Congress returns from its two-week recess in mid-April.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, convened a conference call on Friday night with Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, in which they agreed in principle on a guest worker program for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers.

This was, as the New York Times added, “the last major sticking point on a broad immigration package.”

With this agreement in place, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN, “[C]onceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves.” On “Meet the Press,” Schumer added that “every major policy issue has been resolved,” and said he expects a bill to be unveiled as early as next week.

For those hoping to see legislative progress, this is all quite encouraging, right? Clearly, yes. Pay levels for low-income workers threatened to derail a deal, and with the AFL-CIO and the Chamber on board with a compromise, it’s time to actually write a comprehensive bill that enjoys the support of the bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the Senate, labor leaders, business leaders, and the White House. All of the pieces finally appear to be in place.

All, that is, except Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a “Gang of 8” member who’s getting wobbly.

While the various stakeholders in the process were sounding optimistic notes over the weekend, the far-right Floridian did the opposite.

As several of the eight senators taking part in a bipartisan effort to overhaul to the nation’s immigration laws appeared on television Sunday to voice optimism about the negotiations, Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the group, issued a strongly worded message of caution.

“No Final Agreement on Immigration Legislation Yet” was the headline, all in capital letters, of a statement released by his office on Sunday.

In addition to last night’s statement, Rubio also sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) demanding extensive hearings on the legislation’s many provisions, and warning against a “rush to legislate.”

What’s more, Rubio is now also demanding a process in which his own bill can be amended, many times over.

Rubio’s strategy is a bit of a mystery at this point. As a rule, there’s a name for those who respond to legislative progress by demanding hearings, warning against a “rush to legislate,” asking for an open amendment process, and issuing all-caps press releases insisting there is no agreement. They’re called opponents of the legislation. And yet in this case, Rubio is ostensibly part of the “gang” that’s championing the bill.

To be sure, it’s possible Rubio is just being overly cautious, and trying to keep expectations in check. It’s also possible that Rubio is looking for an escape hatch, and may yet abandon the reform package he knows the far-right will disapprove of.