Rubio pushes back on conservative bloggers over phone rumor

One of the most interesting parts of the immigration debate has been the dynamic between Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and conservatives who have supported him personally but are skeptical at best of comprehensive reform. With the bill out Wednesday, Rubio is taking on conservative blogs for claiming the legislation will give immigrants with work visas free cell phones.

Michelle Malkin, Breitbart News and Florida's Shark Tank Blog have all highlighted the phones. On Twitter, conservatives are criticizing the senator with the hashtag #marcophone. Rubio denied the rumors in an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, saying the phones were for citizens on the border to report on illegal activity.

"[W]hat it does is it provides communication equipment to people who are living in the border region so they can report illegal crossings, because many of them either don’t have phone service or don’t have cellphone service and they have no way of calling," he said.

In dealing with the rumor, Rubio finds himself in the same boat as President Obama, who has been accused by conservatives of handing out "Obama phones" to poor Americans. The discounted phone service dates back to President Reagan and was expanded under George W. Bush.

“Here come the ‘death panels,’” quipped Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, referring to Sarah Palin’s criticism of President Obama’s health care overhaul four years ago.  Though the idea of new government panels deciding who had access to the health programs was proved unfounded, the term caught on among Republican critics.

Rubio is being very proactive, jumping on the rumors within a couple of hours.

Rubio, who was elected in 2010 with tea party support, is also facing tea party protests at his Florida offices over immigration reform. Rubio’s staff distributed a letter to the protesters from the senator, in which Rubio also pushed back on "misinformation."

“There is absolutely no truth to the idea that I will support any immigration legislation that is rushed through Congress in typical Washington fashion,” Rubio wrote.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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