On Sunday, working group members Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) hailed a deal between business and labor to support the immigration bill, but Rubio sounded more circumspect.
“Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature,” he said in a statement. Calling for a “healthy public debate” on whatever legislative proposal the Senate group puts forward, Rubio added that “this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.”
Democrats and immigration advocates say Rubio is crucial to the process of overhauling the nation’s laws in a way that offers a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, and they are enthused by his participation in the Senate working group. They recognize the need for Rubio to move deliberately as he attempts to pull more conservative factions into the fold on immigration.
But at the same time, many liberals are concerned about the mixed signals Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba, has offered in public pronouncements and wonder if he is looking for a potential escape hatch if the political heat becomes too great.
Rubio’s carefully worded statement on Sunday came a day after he wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who had expressed a desire to move quickly. Rubio’s letter emphasized that the committee must hold hearings and not “rush to legislate.” In February, Rubio declared that an immigration plan developed by the Obama administration and leaked to the media would be “dead on arrival,” even though the proposal contained many provisions similar to those being developed by the senators.
“He’s still a freshman, this is going to be prime-time legislation, and he’s going to be targeted by the right and the left,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigration advocacy group. Sharry said he believes Rubio is in the talks for the long haul because if the immigration negotiations break down, the public will blame Republicans, not Obama.
“The crosscurrents are wicked,” Sharry said. “But he’s going to have to stand his ground and take some incoming fire and then be able to say, ‘I procured a victory.’ ”
Rubio’s fellow Senate working group members played down suggestions of a split within the coalition. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Schumer said that Rubio was “correctly pointing out that language hasn’t been fully drafted. . . . He’s been an active and strong participant — he’s had a lot of input into the bill.”