Senator Marco Rubio is the man of the hour. He has deftly positioned himself as the indispensable figure in this year’s immigration debate.
His participation has given the Gang of Eight approach to amnesty some insulation from grassroots conservative criticism, at least for a time. Liberals in Congress understand that his imprimatur is essential to get Republican votes for the amnesty.
But Rubio’s position as a bridge between the parties on immigration means he faces conflicting demands. He wants to ride success on immigration to the 2016 presidential nomination but has also made hard commitments to conservatives about what provisions will have to be in the bill — provisions that Democrats have rejected.
The Washington Post highlighted Rubio’s pivotal role in an editorial this week calling on the Republican party to “evolve” on immigration:
If GOP stars such as Mr. Rubio decide once and for all to lead, that may be enough to sway fence-sitting Republicans in the House. If they waver, this year’s attempt at immigration reform, like those of past years, is as good as dead.
The editorial sums up the political situation pretty well: If Rubio sticks with the Schumer-McCain-Graham scheme, the bill has a chance of passage (though it could still be defeated). But if he walks away, saying he tried to negotiate in good faith but couldn’t accept the final result, then the amnesty push is over.
The opportunities to walk away are already piling up. Rubio has said amnesty would be “undoable” if the amnestied illegals would be eligible for Obamacare. Yet all Senate Democrats, plus two Republicans, voted last month against an amendment that would have barred amnestied illegals from receiving federally subsidized health care.
Rubio has insisted that a bill would include security benchmarks that would have to be achieved before the amnestied illegal aliens could progress from the green-card-lite status they’d get on Day One to full green-card status. Logically, these benchmarks, or triggers, are irrelevant, little more than a fig leaf for amnesty, because they would not affect the provision of work cards, Social Security accounts, driver’s licenses, etc. But even that fig leaf was rejected by Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.
Rubio has also said he won’t go along with any bill that is rammed through Congress, à la Obamacare. When Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy said in a letter that the immigration bill, once introduced, would be acted on “with all deliberate speed,” Rubio insisted on “hearings that explore multiple perspectives on the scope of the problems we face and the efficacy of the solutions we propose,” plus a “robust floor debate,” all broadcast live on C-SPAN.
In response, Leahy said he would “consider” a hearing — a hearing — but that there’s an “urgent need” to pass an amnesty “quickly and decisively” and “without unnecessary delay.”
We won’t know for some time yet how Rubio will respond to the Obamacare and trigger issues, but his press secretary’s response in a tweet to this brush-off by Leahy suggests Rubio may be so committed to amnesty that he’ll swallow anything the Democrats throw at him:
So, it’s a “good sign” that Rubio’s demand for a detailed public examination of the bill through a series of hearings is met with the mere possibility of a single kabuki hearing? If he embraces every Democratic affront this way, he’s going to start getting real pushback from the right.
Such pushback has already begun, albeit gently so far. Phyllis Schlafly wrote to Rubio last month as “one of your enthusiastic supporters since the very beginning of your campaign for the Senate.” Referring to Reagan’s bitter experience with “comprehensive immigration reform,” she urged him not to “get caught in that same mistake” and to resign from the Gang of Eight.
Once the secretly drafted bill is actually made available to the public (which I believe is still required), the pushback will become less gentle. Republican voters are already strongly opposed to amnesty and don’t trust the Obama administration to enforce the law after granting one — they know that amnesty without enforcement guarantees the emergence of another large illegal population.
What’s more, the bill will be loaded with outrageous provisions inserted by sophisticated Democratic staffers running rings around hapless Senate GOP staff who know little about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy. These provisions — whether special immigration rights for gay couples or the designation of no-go areas for immigration officers or something I haven’t imagined yet — will spark significant opposition, and not just from conservatives.
It’s worth noting that there’s also a bipartisan gang in the House that’s cooking up its own amnesty proposal, but passage of something by the Senate is a necessary precondition for further action.
And such passage hinges on whether Rubio will “grow” in office, as have so many of his predecessors, succumbing to the preferences and worldview of the bipartisan Washington establishment. Or will he remain true to the conservative voters who helped him upset RINO (now Democrat) Charlie Crist and sent him to the Senate? Soon enough, Rubio will have to choose the Tea Party or the cocktail party. The decision will tell us a lot about the man.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.