The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul enters the Cruz-Rubio scrum, warning of ‘welfare’ for undocumented immigrants

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to supporters after filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at The Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

CONCORD, N.H. -- The "death watch" for Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign had lasted at least seven weeks, through two presidential debates. It paused Friday, as the senator strolled into the New Hampshire state house and filed for the state's Feb. 9 primary. A crush of reporters met a crush of Paul supporters, in a small space that accentuated the size of both, and Paul took 15 minutes of questions -- none of them about when he'd quit the race. Several times, he got and took chances to criticize the two other conservative senators who had started a fight without him.

"Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio occupy the same space, as [far as] believing in unlimited military spending," said Paul. He repeated a theme from this week's debate, that Rubio's spending proposals were simply not conservative.

[Cruz takes the gloves off, attacking Rubio on immigration]

And separately, in a short interview, Paul attacked Rubio's plan for a expanded child tax credit. "There’s a danger that Rubio’s tax plan will double or triple the amount of welfare that goes to illegal aliens," he said. "The inspector general pointed out that $4 billion in family tax credits are going to illegal aliens, because IRS accepts people who don’t have Social Security numbers. You could double/triple amount of money given to illegal immigrants if you expand that tax credit."

Paul has made that attack several times over the last 36 hours, and it has yet to sink in. But it's his way to buy into the newsy fight between Cruz and Rubio, and to leap to the right of both men. As has been documented, some earned income tax credits and child tax credits have gone to undocumented immigrants and their offspring. But the expansion of the child tax credit has been an uncontroversial aspect of Rubio's tax plan, and Paul wants to change that.

"Simply policing identity theft would address this problem," said the Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Kirkorian, pointing to one of his organization's reports as evidence. "But the IRS simply refuses to do that.  So whether expanding the child tax credit is a good idea is outside my bailiwick, but there's no reason it has to translate into larger payments for illegal aliens filing tax returns with stolen or fake Social Security numbers."

Rubio's campaign said it was dumbfounded by Paul's attack. "No illegal aliens are eligible to get tax credits under Marco's plan," said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. "The child tax credit only goes to legal citizens that are paying taxes. In fact, Marco is a leader on cracking down on illegal immigrant tax fraud - and Sen. Paul supports his efforts."

Conant noted that Paul's own tax reform plan retained the child tax credit. Conservative columnist and "reformocon" Ramesh Ponnuru, an advocate for an expanded child tax credit, suggested that Paul was making much of very little.

"Rubio had a bill (cosponsored by Paul) to exclude illegal immigrants from the child credit, which seemed reasonable to me," Ponnuru said in an e-mail. "If Congress eventually grants legal status to illegal immigrants, it would presumably simultaneously address whether the newly-legalized immigrants would qualify for the credit."

Separately, Paul said that Rubio was far from the Republican mainstream on immigration. "He’s the leading proponent for allowing people in the country illegally to be citizens," said Paul. "Without question, he’s been the leading Republican voice. When many of us tried to add reforms to the 2013 bill to make it palatable for conservatives, he voted against them."