Rubio threatens to betray his allies on immigration reform

Updated
Rubio threatens to betray his allies on immigration reform
Rubio threatens to betray his allies on immigration reform
Associated Press

As we discussed in April, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spent a few months playing an awkward game on comprehensive immigration reform. On the one hand, Rubio has been a high-profile member of the “Gang of Eight,” helping negotiate the details of the legislation. On the other hand, the Florida Republican signaled his willingness to oppose the legislation he’s ostensibly helping write. Rubio would say he likes his own bill, but wouldn’t commit to it.

Many of those involved in the process grew weary of Rubio straddling the fence. It was common to hear Capitol Hill insiders joke that the senator thought he could be “a little bit pregnant” on the policy.

But all that changed in mid-April, when Rubio got off the fence and began championing the legislation he helped craft. And all of that changed again late yesterday when Rubio said he’s prepared to reject his own legislation.

Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday, Rubio said the Senate should “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he was working with other senators on amendments to do just that.

Then Hewitt asked: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”

Rubio answered, “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no.”

Even for Rubio, this is bizarre. The Florida Republican had concerns about provisions related to border security, which he worked out through the “Gang of Eight” negotiations – his colleagues made the changes he wanted to see, which in turn led Rubio to endorse the bipartisan legislation.

But now the senator is moving the goalposts, saying the changes that have already been made aren’t good enough, and unless he’s able to move his bill even further to the right, Rubio is prepared to reject his own legislation.

Well, maybe Democrats can once again give Rubio what he wants, keeping the larger effort intact?

I’m afraid not – Rubio is asking far too much.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn intends to introduce a sweeping amendment to the immigration bill when it goes on the floor next week, seeking to replace an entire section devoted to border security and tweak the national security and criminal justice titles.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the members of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight, has been working with Cornyn on the amendment “for weeks,” a Rubio aide said.

The Texas Republican wants stricter border patrol provisional “triggers” before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards.

No serious person involved in the negotiations believes this is a responsible approach. Indeed, no one even thinks these standards are realistic – it’s exactly why the Gang of Eight considered and rejected these measures during their negotiations. Rubio said they weren’t necessary to earn his support for the legislation, and now he’s saying they are.

He is, in other words, apparently prepared to betray his allies.

And why would Rubio do this? Because the Republican Party’s radicalized base opposes comprehensive reform, and Rubio’s support for the bill will undermine his future career ambitions, including a likely run for national office in 2016. [Update: Adam Serwer notes this is ultimately pointless, since the right will still resent the fact that he helped write a bill they hate, and the left will resent the fact that he walked away from a deal reached in good faith.]

There is an important caveat to all of this: Rubio has waffled before. I don’t recall him going as far as he did with Hugh Hewitt, but the Florida Republican occasionally waffles, only to be brought back into the fold. Reform proponents can hope that McCain and Graham will give him a call this morning, Rubio will walk back his comments from yesterday, and the process will move forward. Rubio isn’t a policy guy, so it’s possible he got rattled yesterday and said what he didn’t entirely mean.

But if we take his words at face value, Rubio has put the future of immigration reform at great risk, basically because he’s worried right-wing activists won’t like him anymore.

Marco Rubio

Rubio threatens to betray his allies on immigration reform

Updated