Thursday was another busy day for the Gang of 8 immigration reform effort, which has come to mean Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his staff were everywhere on talk radio, on the Senate floor, at a press conference, manning their new Web site and sending batches of e-mails to the media to debunk attacks.
Rubio announced his delight that a third hearing, this one by the Joint House and Senate Economic Committee had been scheduled. (“We need more transparency and greater scrutiny of this bill as the process continues, and it’s important for this particular committee to look at how this bill helps our economy and encourages job creation, as well as ways we can improve it that will further help American workers find better job opportunities.”) In a none-too-subtle dig at immigration exclusionists who doubt the economic benefit of immigration, he noted, “As conservatives, we’ve always believed any serious policy cost analysis must account for the positive benefits of any policy – the same way tax cut ‘scores’ must account for revenue inevitably generated from economic growth.”
On the Senate floor he reiterated what will be a frequent refrain in the weeks and months ahead: “If there wasn’t a single illegal immigrant in the United States, we would still have to do immigration reform.” That, he says, is because we need immigrants as a matter of economic necessity, both for relatively low-level agricultural work and for high-end technical jobs that cannot be filled solely by Americans. He batted away the excuse that the bill was being rushed. “This bill has been online already for 48 hours. The Committee on Judiciary won’t even begin to consider amendments to this bill until next month. People are going to have three to four weeks to review it. It’s posted on my Web site — people can go on there now and see it. And beyond that, it will be available all these weeks, then it is going to go through an extensive committee process, then it will be brought here — hopefully to the floor — where we can debate it openly as well.” You do get the feeling the critics haven’t really read what it is in it.
So far the opposition to the Gang of 8 has been haphazard. The most common refrain is that even with all the border security measures and triggers it won’t work or the government won’t enforce the law or the number will get fixed. At some point there is no logical response to people who think the government is deceitful and unaccountable. (No, elections, oversight and the media won’t do it, I guess.) That’s an emotional position not amenable to logic or facts — and we’ll see a lot of it.
On the other hand, some anti-immigration voices, recognizing they know much less about the bill than Rubio does, have taken to complaining that this will just mean more Democratic voters. Well, in 13 years, according to the bill’s timetable, they might become citizens and vote for Democrats, that is if the GOP doesn’t figure out how to appeal to millions of voters. (But then the GOP is doing a fine job of going out of business even without immigration reform.) If the argument against immigration reform is we can’t do it because then Republicans will lose elections, I think opponents will have some difficulty. At its core it is a defeatist argument that Republicanism is not for minority voters.
Rubio made the case to the contrary on the Rush Limbaugh radio show: “I would say to that, that every political movement — conservatism included — depends on the ability to convince people that do not agree with you now to agree with you in the future. And I think we have a very strong argument to make to people that are coming here to improve their lives and want to give their children a better life, that what they came here to get away from was big government — and that, in fact, the only way for that to be possible is free enterprise and limited government.”
To their credit, even talk-show hosts who were skeptical gave Rubio a platform to make his case. And while he doesn’t control the microphone day after day, Rubio can lay claim to the affections and respect of conservatives. He is also an effective communicator, adept at rebuffing false claims about his plan again and again.
Ironically, opposition to a flexible labor market is not a conservative position. Fiscal conservatives such as Douglas Holtz Eakin and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist are on Rubio’s side. (An insightful conservative points out the leadership of the most extreme anti-immigration groups aren’t conservatives at all but a cross section of environmentalists, pro-union, and anti-population-growth characters.) It is the left that routinely tries to restrict the labor market (e.g. by collective bargaining).
This is not to say there aren’t sincere, rational people opposing immigration reform. Rubio and his team should be able to answer the good-faith concerns about items such as border protection. As for those who will oppose any bill no matter what is in it, well, Rubio’s not going to get them. But he’s aiming to isolate them and limit their influence. Hence you see his effort in engaging fiscal conservatives, evangelicals, libertarians and others.
If the Democrats do their job (a big if) and deliver the lion’s share of the Senate Democrats, Rubio’s job will be to bring along a batch of Republicans, not even a majority.. Can he do that? He’s off to a good start. But there is a long, long way to go. And then in the House things will get very sticky. But for now Rubio is showing tenacity and finesse, two qualities he’ll need if he decides to run for something other than re-election in 2016.