In the last Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) worked as part of a bipartisan group of senators to craft a comprehensive immigration reform package. For the ambitious Florida Republican, it was a great opportunity, not only to make a difference, but to have a major legislative accomplishment under his belt before seeking national office.
As we now know, that didn’t work out too well for Rubio – on either front. Not only did the legislation fail, but the far-right Republican base ended up hating the bipartisan solution, which will hamper, not help, the Florida senator’s ambitions. Indeed, Rubio has spent much of the last year distancing himself from his own bill.
He talked recently with National Journal about how he’ll approach the issue in the future.
“We must begin by acknowledging that, considering our recent experience with massive pieces of legislation, achieving comprehensive reform of anything in a single bill is simply not realistic. Having tried that approach, I know this to be true firsthand.“The fear that such massive pieces of legislation include some clever loophole or unintended consequence makes it even harder to achieve. The only way we are going to be able to break this impasse and make progress on this issue is in a sequential and piecemeal way, with a series of bills that build upon one another until ultimately we have put in place the kind of immigration system our nation needs.”
I’m all for policymakers learning from their mistakes, but in this case, Rubio has learned the wrong lessons. In fact, he seems to have the whole dynamic backwards.
First, comprehensive reform was entirely realistic – the Senate struck a bipartisan compromise, which passed easily with backing from liberals and conservatives. It enjoyed the White House’s support. It earned the public’s support. It was celebrated by immigration advocates, business leaders, law enforcement, the religious community, and deficit hawks. Heck, by most measures, even a majority of the House was prepared to pass it, if the bill ever reached the floor for a vote.
To hear Rubio tell it, there’s simply no way to expect a divided Washington to coalesce around a comprehensive solution to a contentious issue. But we know better – if the House Republican leadership had allowed the chamber to work its will, the package would be law today.
Second, the whole point of working on a comprehensive solution is that it makes success easier, not harder. When it comes to complex issues like immigration, various contingents are looking for entirely different policy outcomes. For most Democrats, the goal is creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. For most Republicans, the endpoint is increased border security. For many in the private sector, the priority is expanded and improved visas.
Putting the measures into a single package makes it easier to pass – everyone can get what they want at the same time. Pulling the policies apart, telling the various factions that their priorities would eventually be addressed, does the opposite.