We noted earlier today that Ted Cruz is now going all in on attacking Marco Rubio for his support for the Obama-Schumer amnesty bill, i.e., the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 and includes a path to citizenship. (We need a shorthand for that: How about “SCHUM-O-BAMNESTY”?) Now Rubio is hitting back:

Rubio pushed back on those claims Thursday, saying the bill had the correct security components but was waylaid by voter mistrust — and arguing that he and Cruz shared “almost all the same views on immigration.”
“Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally,” Rubio said after a campaign stop in South Carolina. “In fact, when the Senate bill was proposed, he proposed giving them work permits. He’s also supported a massive expansion of the green cards. He’s supported a massive expansion of the [H-1B] program, a 500 percent increase.”

Rubio, after supporting Schum-o-bamnesty, has now retreated to a position where we can only begin to discuss legalization after some undefined state of absolute border security is attained first. Today, Rubio endeavored to explain why this does not constitute “amnesty”:

Asked about Cruz’s charges, Rubio said that the immigration reforms needed after border security was addressed did not amount to “amnesty.” He did not discuss any ways that foreign-born workers who entered the United States illegally could become citizens, only how some could earn 10-year work permits. And he argued that “every candidate on [the debate] stage” favored some sort of legalization for workers now in the country illegally — including Cruz.
“If you look at it, I don’t believe our positions are dramatically different,” said Rubio.

What’s basically happening now is that Rubio is pointing out that Cruz is no purist when it comes to anti-“amnesty” zeal. And Rubio is right that Cruz supports a form of legalization. During the 2013 debate over Schum-o-bamnesty, Cruz proposed an amendment that would have toughened up the bill’s border security metrics and would have ruled out citizenship for those getting legal status, but Cruz did support allowing for legalization under those conditions.

Rubio is also right that Cruz has proposed expanding the H1-B visa program, but Cruz is now walking that back.

Rubio is clearly looking to highlight such things to distract from Cruz’s attack on his support for Schum-o-bamnesty, which continues to raise suspicions among conservatives about Rubio’s true immigration intentions. Rubio’s goal is to muddle the picture sufficiently to blunt Cruz’s attacks.

But there are still ways to determine which of the two men is the more committed anti-“amnesty” diehard:

1) Which of the two would pledge to end Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers from deportation on Day One of his presidency?

Cruz has vowed to rescind all of Obama’s executive actions immediately. But Rubio has dragged his feet when it comes to rolling back Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers. He only came out and said it would have to end after Trump had attacked him over this question, and Rubio still hasn’t clarified when it would end.

And the new president could indeed end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program immediately for the many hundreds of thousands who currently are benefiting from it, according to immigration lawyer David Leopold.

“There is nothing that stops the new president from cancelling DACA on Day One,” Leopold tells me. “It’s an exercise of executive discretion. If the president wants to, he or she can exercise his or her discretion and revoke the temporary status granted to DREAMers immediately. He or she could cancel their protections immediately.”

2) Which of the two is willing to preclude a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally but eventually win legalization?

As noted above, Cruz’s 2013 amendment to Schum-o-bamnesty would have done that, and Cruz has said that this is essential to avoiding rewarding lawbreakers. But while Rubio has backed off of his own support for a path to citizenship as part of the Schum-obamnesty bill, he has not ruled it out as part of his own approach to reform — his suggested process would result in legalization many years down the line, but there would still be a way to citizenship from there.

Thus far, it’s plainly obvious that Cruz is more of an immigration hard-liner than Rubio is. But Rubio has time to adjust his positions on DACA and citizenship accordingly, if he so chooses. Of course, if he does that, it might make it harder for him to pivot back to being the GOP’s Great Hispanic Hope in the general election. The question is whether Cruz — along with Donald Trump, who has also been hitting Rubio on these issues — will pull Rubio so far to the right that getting back to that place will become harder.