When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.
They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:
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:
It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.
NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.
This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.
One of the obstacles to garnering support for comprehensive immigration reform is the federal government’s poor reputation for enforcing the laws on the books. Advocates for immigration reform correctly point out that the current system amounts to a kind of unofficial, but clear, amnesty for illegal immigrants. While that claim is often deployed in defense of the current immigration reform efforts, it does raise the seeming contradiction of the bill’s proponents acknowledging the government’s underwhelming track record while asking the public to believe the government will get it right this time.
This is a common problem for supporters of any major overhaul. When President Obama talked about offsetting Medicare provider cuts by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse (that slippery target that perennially plays Road Runner to the government’s Wile E. Coyote), the obvious response was to ask him why they haven’t already simply eliminated the waste, fraud, and abuse if they know it’s there, and why they need a reform bill to do so at all. So it is with “securing the border” and other elements of immigration reform. And Marco Rubio, a member of the “gang of eight” senators behind the current immigration reform legislation, is conceding as much. Politico reports that, because of those concerns, Rubio doesn’t think his own bill could pass the House:
If Republican primary voters were huddled in a laboratory underground creating their ideal presidential candidate for the 2016 political climate, it’s easy to imagine this candidate’s resume. He would have grassroots bona fides, preferably by defeating an “establishment” Republican in a primary. He would come from a red state with a strong conservative political base. He would be able to blunt the party’s poor reputation among minorities. He would be unafraid to publicly challenge Democrats wherever he could find them. He would be a skilled debater. He would be young and telegenic. He would be connected to major party donors. He would have an Ivy League education. And he would provoke irrational hatred from the media.
He would be, basically, Ted Cruz. This fact is apparently not lost on many on the right, including Ted Cruz. National Review’s Robert Costa is out with a story today on the Cruz-in-2016 buzz. But there are some questions about a Cruz candidacy–aside from the one of his eligibility, since he was born in Canada to an American mother–that are more difficult to answer definitively than they may seem. The first question is: Though the speculation that he’ll run is good for his reputation, would actually running for president in 2016 be good for Ted Cruz’s career? Obviously, if he won the presidency the answer is yes. But because he’s a freshman senator with no real record in office yet, a general-election loss would make him a has-been before his first term is up.
Since passing a Senate immigration bill with broad Republican support would vastly increase the chances of the bill passing the House, opponents of the proposed comprehensive immigration reform have been looking for an ally in the Senate GOP caucus to stall the bill. They have settled, it seems, on Ted Cruz. The freshman Texas senator is popular with the base and has consistently sought out ways to make his presence known in the upper chamber. He is also Hispanic, which–fairly or unfairly–makes it easier for him to oppose immigration reform.
But Cruz is not the most important voice in the Senate GOP on immigration–that distinction goes to Marco Rubio, who is crafting and selling the bill. Nor is Cruz the most important Republican outside the “gang of eight” who led efforts to put the bill together. Cruz is an important voice, for the reasons mentioned above. So is Paul Ryan–who plays a key role in House legislation and often serves as a bridge between the base and the House leadership–since the bill would have to pass the House after gaining the Senate’s approval. But those who want to get a sense of the fate awaiting the immigration bill should be watching Rand Paul.
It was probably inevitable. Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s decision to join a bipartisan coalition trying to forge a compromise immigration reform proposal was bound to bring down on him the wrath of some conservatives. In some precincts of the right, opposition to any effort to deal with the reality of illegal immigration other than by fantasies of mass deportation has always tended to be put down as an “amnesty” plan. So it is hardly surprising that Rubio’s rollout of the bipartisan reform proposal that was crafted by the “gang” of four Democrats and four Republicans is generating considerable flack this week.
One example came from National Review editor Rich Lowry, whose Politico column takes the point of view that Rubio has been rolled by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. According to the thoughtful Lowry, Rubio was no match for the wily Schumer, who got the Florida Republican to buy into a lopsided deal that provided no real guarantees about border enforcement in exchange for a path to citizenship for the illegals. I think this underestimates Rubio as well as being a misreading of the bill. But the question running through my head as I read this and other ripostes to the push for the reform proposal isn’t so much about whether Rubio is as foolish as his detractors believe him to be or the argument about the details of the bill. My question is more basic: What conservative principle are Rubio’s critics defending here?
The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.
And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:
The details of the long-awaited bipartisan immigration reform bill are out, and there is much to digest, though the bill contains few if any surprises. But one concern that hangs over the process is whether the bill’s proponents and sponsors can convince the public that the text of the law will also be the reality of the law. Several recent stories have called this into question.
In his column in yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Byron York lays out the details of the three enforcement measures–E-Verify, border security, and visa monitoring–as well as the “triggers” to allow illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship and the process by which they can do so. But there are indications that the skeptics will not be mollified. York writes:
Marco Rubio may have made Sunday morning television history yesterday when he managed to appear on seven shows to speak in support of the bipartisan compromise immigration bill on which he and seven other Senate colleagues have been working. Rubio was both eloquent and convincing in his advocacy for immigration reform. Indeed, the only moments in which he appeared to falter in any of his appearances came not when he was asked to defend the proposed bill but to discuss his own political future.
Wherever he went, Rubio was asked about the impact of his embrace of immigration reform on his presidential hopes. Given that his position on this issue is one that may offend many members of own party while also making him potentially more attractive to independents and some Democrats, this is a fair question, albeit one he probably is better off not answering. But rather than merely punt on the question of whether he is thinking of running for president with a bland and probably honest reply indicating that he hasn’t made up his mind, Rubio went further than that, saying he hadn’t even thought about the implications of his stands on his possible candidacy and that he hadn’t even thought about whether he would run in 2016.
Such patently disingenuous answers are commonplace in politics, a business where blatant dishonesty can often be the coin of the realm. Tradition holds that presidential candidates are not supposed to sound too eager about running since we generally like our would-be commanders-in-chief to sound diffident rather than eager about their desire for power. And three years from now, no one will care what Rubio or any other candidate said about running in 2013. But it must also be acknowledged that his willingness to fib about what he is thinking about contrasts unfavorably with potential rival Rand Paul’s open candor about his ambitions.
In the early days of the revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it was a little easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The regime’s massacres of demonstrators and dissidents calling for an end to tyranny made it clear the world’s sympathy should be with the government’s opponents. But the assumption on the part of President Obama and his European allies that the ruthless Assad clan and its Alawite followers would meekly fold up its tents and leave the same way authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia did was wildly over-optimistic. Since the U.S. rightly knew that Syria was a much tougher nut to crack than the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which they decided to take out as a humanitarian mission, the hope was that Assad would fall in due time, allowing a transition to a less murderous ruler in Damascus.
Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to wait and see was a colossal mistake. Assad and his backers had nowhere to go and showed they were prepared to kill as many people as possible to hang on. Tens of thousands of dead civilians later, something just as troubling has happened as the armed opposition to the regime is now dominated by jihadist forces, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda. Which means the debate about intervention in Syria has become a rather murky subject. But that hasn’t stopped the discussion that was enlivened this week by a couple of suggestions that pretty much covered the spectrum from a stance of dogged do-gooding altruism to dark cynicism.
Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Casey put the former position forward in a Politico op-ed. They want the U.S. to selectively back the least unattractive parts of the Syrian opposition while doing its best to oust the dictator. The latter was the work of scholar Daniel Pipes who wrote in the Washington Times to suggest that it was time to for the United States to think strategically and, astonishingly, back Assad’s bid to stay in power. Which of them is right? I’m not entirely comfortable with either position but if I really had to choose, Rubio and Casey’s proposal seems like the better option.
Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”
Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?
There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.
In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.
There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:
In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.
Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.
It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:
Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.
The CPAC conference has come in for a lot of justified criticism about excluding popular Republicans like Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. The annual right-wing jamboree is being trashed in the mainstream media as the living, breathing example of why the GOP loses elections since it is oriented toward ideological activists rather than expanding the party’s big tent. But such jibes miss the point about the event. It is by and for the party’s base, not independents, and like any similar gathering of liberal Democrats the response of participants to speakers is a fair measure of what will fire up the people who will do the groundwork in any future election. While the Republicans need to work at recasting their image if they are to win the White House again, no party can succeed without being able to energize their core supporters.
That’s why one shouldn’t dismiss the cheers received today at CPAC by two of the leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as mere noise. Both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were in good form, articulating some of their favorite themes to the faithful. But while Rubio’s speech seemed aimed exactly at those swing voters, or at least those who might be persuaded to back a presentable Republican, Paul’s remarks—like his filibuster earlier this month—seemed geared more toward winning over the people who vote in Republican primaries. While Rubio’s speech was on point and well received, there isn’t much doubt about who is the senator that can best be described as the GOP flavor of the month.
As Max wrote earlier, there is a growing divide in the Republican Party with regard to foreign aid that reflects a broader philosophical divergence on the right. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are both Tea Party-generation fiscal conservatives, but in the past they have approached foreign policy from different angles–Rubio from an interventionist point of view and Paul from a pro-disengagement perspective. So it was surely a victory for Paul when Rubio took to the floor of the Senate last week to support Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination over the use of drones.
But one senator who wasn’t at the filibuster was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. Like Rubio, Ayotte is a fiscal conservative who has made her name on foreign affairs. Unlike Rubio, however, Ayotte can’t so easily distance herself from the party’s old guard, which has been openly feuding with Paul since the filibuster. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought to portray Paul as outside the mainstream–a “wacko bird,” in McCain’s unfortunate phrasing–further alienating the pair from the party’s conservative base, which rallied to Paul’s defense during the filibuster. McCain and Graham have also been mentors to Ayotte, who seems to have replaced former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the “three amigos.” The Hill today takes a look at Ayotte’s predicament:
A battle is going on for the future of Republican foreign policy. At one end of the spectrum stand the isolationists–or, if they prefer, non-interventionists–like Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator has incredibly enough has called for the elimination of all foreign aid–a policy that, if ever implemented, would decrease American clout in the world and leave allies dangerously exposed. His message resonates with some in these days of war-weariness and budget insolvency. But his policies are extremely dangerous–not only for the United States and the world but also for the Republican Party which, if it were to embrace the Paulian gospel, would return to its irrelevancy of the 1930s.
Luckily Paul does not speak for the majority of Republicans–not even close. Luckily, too, there are smart voices emerging in the party to provide a principled voice for American leadership in the world. Foremost among the new contributors to the debate is Senator Marco Rubio, who has defended the utility of foreign aid in general while not being afraid to condition U.S. assistance on the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.
Judging Marco Rubio’s performance in his official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union depends upon whether you think satire outweighs substance and style. There is little doubt that Rubio’s case of dry mouth will be endlessly mocked in the days, weeks and even years to come. Television comics will ruthlessly parody his hurried grab for a drink in the middle of the speech. But it would be a mistake to think his on camera water break will come to define the speech or his future presidential hopes.
But take the big gulp out of the equation and what you are talking about is easily the best response to a State of the Union speech since the genre was invented. Rubio’s authentic invocation of his immigrant roots combined with an articulate and passionate argument about opportunity struck exactly the right tone for a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a reboot. Rubio’s persona was, as it always is, intensely likeable as well as informed. Though liberals jibed that his talk was merely a repackaging of traditional conservative themes, that shouldn’t be considered an insult. In Rubio, the GOP has a spokesman who can champion the middle class and immigrants while speaking to the core values of conservatism that still resonate with most Americans. Though the skewering he’ll get over his water problem reduces the impact of his showing, he survived a thankless task with his reputation as one of his party’s leading contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination intact.