Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is going to be visible over a significant period of time in many different platforms as immigration reform wends its way through the Senate. He intends for hearings and weeks of debate followed by amendments and more debate. Given the Senate’s schedule, this will take months. And Rubio by the end may be the best known national Republican.
He insists that his aim is to do his job well and thereby give himself “options” in 2016. But if he succeeds with immigration reform he’ll be in the driver’s seat in the presidential race. Here’s why:
1. High tech and other business leaders want immigration reform. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it:
In the short term, the newcomers may cost more than they contribute, but as their job and language skills improve and their earnings rise over time, the net lifetime impact of most immigrants is positive. . . .
One reason for this immigration windfall is that young immigrants will compensate for the low U.S. birthrate. . . .
Immigrants are also generally productive, entrepreneurial and highly motivated. They have a higher labor-participation rate than native-born Americans, and they also create new businesses at a higher rate. Some have specific technical skills the U.S. needs, while even workers with lesser education or lower skills bring a strong work ethic and a willingness to fill low-wage jobs.
2. Success on immigration would disprove the contention that America is ungovernable. Rubio can lay claim to being the one who unlocked decades of gridlock on a key issue.
3. Border security provisions, if as tough as the Senate summary suggests, will be a big “get” with conservatives concerned about national security, crime and ending the enticement for future generations to come here illegally.
4. The end product — a path to citizenship and the end of illegal status for millions — and Rubio’s constant presence on Spanish-language media will enhance his appeal among Hispanics and potentially draw more into the GOP primary process.
5. Unlike President Obama, who had a nonexistent record of accomplishment in the Senate, Rubio will establish himself as more than a barrier-breaking charismatic figure. Doubts about whether he is seasoned enough for the presidency will largely be removed.
6. He has put together a top-flight staff and is running the immigration fight like a political campaign — setting the agenda, engaging conservative and mainstream media, lining up support from various sectors of the Republican coalition and rebutting unfounded attacks. Nothing is quite like running for president, but this should get him and his advisers in fighting form.
7. As he is fighting immigration, he is helping to rebrand his party. Anything now with “Republican” in front of it (Republican budget, Republican tax plan, etc.) is toxic. But Rubio is going to spend plenty of time talking about the American dream, an opportunity society, economic growth and other themes attendant to immigration reform. If voters are listening they’ll get a different take on Republicans than they previously had.
There are probably some other advantages to be gained. But they and all of these items depend on getting immigration reform done. Fortunately for him, Obama’s second term and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s chances to be majority (or minority) leader also hang in the balance. There are huge obstacles to passing legislation, including the House Republican right-wingers and the left-wingers who are concerned about the benefit to Rubio from achieving immigration reform. I’ll peg it at a 50-50 proposition. But if Rubio succeeds, he’ll be the odds-on favorite for his party’s nomination in 2016.