Why Marco Rubio is against his own immigration bill — and what it means

June 6, 2013

After months of defending immigration reform to conservatives, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said earlier this week that, as the bill stands, he won't vote for it. So, is Rubio's pronouncement a death knell for the legislation's chances?


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won't vote for the current immigration bill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Nope. Rubio's been saying for weeks that he can't support the bill in its current form. But that doesn't mean he's giving up (as one conservative radio host urged him just yesterday to do). What is worrisome for reformers is that Rubio might embrace a bill that's too conservative for them.

During the bill markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rubio pushed for an amendment that would require the implementation of a biometric tracking system, among other border-security measures. After the bill passed out of committee without those measures, he put out a statement saying that "work still remains to be done" to "earn the confidence of the American people that we are solving our immigration problems once and for all."

It was also a few weeks ago that he circulated a memo around the Senate that listed 21 concerns with the bill.

When asked if he would support the legislation as is, Rubio told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt: "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." But, he added: "If they don't pass, then we have to keep working to ensure that we get to a bill that can become a law." (Rubio's office declined to comment on the Hewitt interview. )

"Gang of Eight" members on both sides of the aisle who are pushing the legislation aren't panicking -- Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Tampa Bay Times that they welcomed Rubio's efforts to bridge the gap between reformers and conservatives.

That doesn't mean reform advocates aren't worried. Rubio's comments to Hewitt are his most public push yet to move the bill to the ideological right, and some reform advocates whisper that soon the legislation will be so compromised it won't be worth passing.

They are concerned that Rubio has been supportive of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who has introduced an amendment  that would trigger a path to citizenship only after 90 percent of illegal-border crossers are caught.

"His public forays drive me a little batty, but I'm less interested in what he says and more interested in what he does," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-reform America's Voice. "It's really kind of a moment of truth for Rubio: is he gonna let John Cornyn push him into a corner in a way that destabilizes the 'Gang of Eight?'"

Others are annoyed but still confident.

"Rubio is trying to have it both ways -- be seen as a leader on behalf of both immigrants and people who are uncomfortable with immigration," said AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser. "At some point, he'll have to choose, and ultimately we are convinced he will recognize that choosing citizenship for the 11 million is the right political move."

If the legislation succeeds, Rubio's efforts will make him look doubly good. With Hispanic voters, he can say he was a key player in the reform's passage. With conservatives he can say he ensured the bill was heavily girded with enforcement measures.

But Rubio has already expended huge amounts of political capital on immigration reform. To walk away from it now -- after risking his standing with conservatives by going on record, repeatedly, in support of a path to citizenship -- would make no sense.

U.S. reportedly collecting Verizon phone records: Under a top-secret order issued in April, the National Security Agency appears to be collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans who use the carrier Verizon. The Guardian newspaper first reported existence of the document, which is likely to the the dominant topic of discussion in the nation's capital today. The Post's Ellen Nakashima reports that if the document is genuine, it could represent the broadest surveillance order known to have been issued. And for an administration already taking criticism for for seizing journalists' phone records, the revelation will mean more scrutiny -- not just from Republicans. The political left begun pushing back against the administration over the news Wednesday night.

“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” said a senior Obama administration official in a statement Thursday morning.

Markey, Gomez clash in first debate: It became clear at the outset of Wednesday night's Senate debate that former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez (R) and Rep. Ed Markey (D) were not going to be passive. A tense exchange on gun control was followed by sparring over abortion, foreign policy and health care. On the whole, neither candidate appeared to come away with a clear advantage from the debate. A draw is better for Markey, who is favored to win and is trying to prevet Gomez from making a move down the stretch. But there are still two debates left. And given the tone of the first one, we can expect even sharper criticism during the next couple of set-tos.

NRCC says it is expanding playing field: In a memo to Republican members, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon writes Republicans are "aggressively expanding the playing field" in the battle for the House. Democratic recruiting busts and Obama administration controversies, Walden argues, have put Democrats on defense. He pointed to five Democratic-held districts (California's 36th district, Florida's 26th district, Illinois' 10th and 12th districts, and Utah's 4th district) where internal automated polling suggested signs for Republican optimism. "House Republicans are expanding the playing field and putting Democrats on defense on their own turf," writes Walden. Democrats need to net 17 seats to win back the House.

Fixbits: 

Attorney General Eric Holder said he has no intention of stepping down.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is stepping away from the House "Group of Eight" immigration talks.

Al Gore criticized the Obama administration's reported collecting of calls made on the Verizon network.

The IRS has put two employees on leave in connection with a 2010 conference that cost millions.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) has started collecting signatures to appear on the ballot in the Senate special election. The filing deadline is Monday.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R): Unlikely Obamacare ally.

Disgraced former senator John Edwards is reportedly looking to open a new law firm.

Must-reads:

"National security team shuffle may signal more activist stance at White House" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Senate immigration bill teeters as it tilts rightward" -- Lisa Mascaro and Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times

Updated at 8:37 a.m. 

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