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The Unlikely Scenario of Rubio Voting Down His Own Immigration Bill

Ask yourself the following question out loud: How will Marco Rubio vote on the current iteration of comprehensive immigration reform? If you’ve been following the immigration debate at all, the question probably sounds pretty silly. Rubio, after all, helped craft the bill after galvanizing momentum for it on the right while putting together a bipartisan coalition to stave off President Obama’s interference.

Rubio was front and center at the bill’s rollout, and he promptly made the rounds on conservative talk radio shows to stand between the reform bill and a very skeptical conservative grassroots audience. But perhaps in a sign of just how far the momentum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, apparently whether Rubio will vote for his own bill is actually up for debate. Buried in Politico’s feature today on the future of the bill is this nugget:

The second tier of senators, who are less likely to back the bill but could be swayed, includes John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Thune of South Dakota, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. This is a group that could vote yes if Rubio is still on board and other conservatives are falling into line.

“The key is Rubio,” said Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “Without Rubio, this bill would not get anywhere with Republicans. He gives them the cover.”

Well, yes, one would think that Rubio’s support for the bill would be the starting point for other Republicans. It’s hard to imagine any Republican not in the “gang of eight” would support Rubio’s bill if Rubio won’t. But Rubio is not just a member of the gang of eight. He’s also in some other select groups, including a gang of five–according to another Politico story, the five personalities involved in the immigration reform debate who could stop the bill in its tracks:

Make no mistake. Rubio is all in for the bill, and much of his political future hinges on the success of the legislation the young senator helped draft.

That’s why everyone is watching every move he makes.

Were he to go wobbly or lose his support with the GOP base, congressional Republicans wouldn’t take long to abandon ship.

Asked what would happen if Rubio withdrew his support, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) replied: “I think it would kill the bill.”

So Rubio is “all in for the bill,” no question about it, says Politico. But hey–let’s just say he isn’t. Then what? Well, then the bill will have ceased to be. Besides the gang of eight and wrecking crew of five, Rubio is also in the Hill’s Tea Party three. That is the trio of conservative senators with presidential aspirations in 2016, which includes Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz:

The senators share common philosophies and much of the same base — and as long as one has the spotlight on an issue, the others won’t. Whoever claims a stake over individual issues — and the issues upon which they disagree — will likely set the stage for the 2016 campaign.

But of all today’s stories on various groups within the Senate, the most interesting one comes from Tim Carney–and with this group, Rubio is on the outside looking in. Carney writes of a “Tea Party Troika of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.” The team, Carney explains, has established essentially a parallel power base to those holding the Senate’s traditional leadership positions. They have done so by harnessing the energy–and outrage–of the grassroots.

Whether the troika is really the challenge to leadership they seem is debatable, but the group is notable for Rubio’s absence. Rubio was one of the original Tea Party success stories, and he was also one of the early and most significant Senate conservative disciples of Jim DeMint. And yet Rubio now finds himself pitted against DeMint and walking a tightrope of grassroots suspicion all because of his work on immigration. Rubio went from being the ambassador representing the Tea Party to the establishment, and now seems to be the reverse.

But that likely won’t push Rubio away from immigration reform. All of the horserace stories miss one crucial aspect: quite apart from its electoral considerations, does Rubio actually believe in the viability and value of comprehensive immigration reform? All indications are that the answer is yes. And that remains the best guide to whether he’ll stick with the effort, even if he has to do so without Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.