Commentary Magazine


Rubio Welcomes the Immigration Challenge

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?

Virtually every move of Rubio’s on the issue has been subject to conflicting interpretations. Depending on which side you hear, the public hearing process Rubio wants to hold on immigration reform is either a ruse to lull Rubio’s critics into a false sense of security or a delaying tactic enabling him to passively sideline the legislation. It has become the worst of both worlds for Rubio, with the left attacking him for advancing their cause and the right suspecting him of selling them down the river.

But as a thorough piece in Politico today explains, it cannot be plausibly argued that Rubio wants immigration reform to fail. He has tied his own political fate, it seems, to that of immigration reform:

Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party — but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.

Rubio wants a comprehensive bill, despite the pleas from some Republicans to work the process in stages. (Such a process would almost certainly result in the thorniest immigration issue–what to do with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country–left unaddressed.) Rubio, according to the story, wants the illegal immigrants currently in the country to be permitted to apply for citizenship after 13 years and when the border enforcement mechanisms have been established.

Rubio plans to unveil the text of the bill early next week, and at least one major committee hearing will be held on it before Judiciary Committee voting begins in about a month. To assuage concerns that the bill could get jammed through Congress without sufficient conservative input and feedback, Rubio will probably hold separate public meetings on the bill, which he hopes will include immigration experts.

That may not be enough to satisfy skeptics, and in fact it presents its own risks to the bill (which is likely why his committee colleagues won’t agree to official extensive public hearings themselves). Rubio is grappling in many ways with the ghost of ObamaCare. Public hearings and town halls were held on the president’s proposed health care reform and they allowed the public to register voters’ overwhelming opposition to the bill. The result was a disaster: the terrible legislation was shoved through over the opposition of the public via procedural tricks and unseemly trade-offs like the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the bill’s supporters were washed out of Congress in a wave of public outrage.

The immigration hearings have another precedent as well, and it’s not much more encouraging: the town halls held by Republicans opposed to the immigration reform spearheaded by George W. Bush and John McCain that was eventually spiked in 2007. As the AP reported in February, it’s not going much better for McCain this time around.

The public hearings are going to test Rubio’s powers of persuasion, but the whole process will also gauge whether the perceived shift in the GOP stance on immigration, led by the party’s next generation, has been pronounced enough to not only get a comprehensive bill passed but do so with the support, even if grudging, of the grassroots. Rubio is almost surely hoping to find out the answer to the latter before the 2016 GOP primary process renders its own verdict.

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