The Weekly Standard has a transcript of the key exchange from last night’s Hugh Hewitt Show. Quote:
Rubio: …[W]hat we’ve heard is people don’t want to just turn it over to the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan. They want the plan to be laid out with specifically real measurables. I think that’s a good approach. And so we’re working with members now to do that. We expect to hear from them here in the next couple of days.”
Hewitt: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”
Rubio: “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no. If they don’t pass, then we have to keep working to ensure that we get to a bill that can become a law.
Rubio fans on Twitter are noting that he’s said from the very beginning that he won’t back the bill unless it has a meaningful border-security “trigger” for the path to citizenship. That’s correct, he did say that — and then he spent the next four months working conservative media to support the Gang of Eight bill, whose idea of a “trigger” is to create a Border Commission if DHS can’t figure out a way to tighten security after five years of trying. Like Byron York, I can’t quite believe that after almost singlehandedly making Schumer’s bill viable in the Senate, Rubio’s now decided that the security part is simply too weak to stand — and that he’s being given credit for this in some righty circles. If he was all broken up about the border provisions, why didn’t he throw down the gauntlet for improvements before the Judiciary Committee passed the thing? And do note, even now the only “trigger” he’s talking about vis-a-vis border metrics is a trigger to let illegals apply for green cards. The initial probationary legalization, which is critical in giving them a claim to remain in the U.S. permanently, will still happen quickly and independently of what’s happening on the border. If you think, having legalized millions of illegals, that Congress is going to hold off on putting them on the green-card track for 20, 30, 40 years because DHS can’t get the border under control, you’re kidding yourself. Given the political pressure they’ll face over the next decade, I’d be amazed if congressional Republicans resisted caving to Democratic demands to start the citizenship process even for the 10 years that the Gang of Eight bill currently requires. If Rubio’s decided the bill’s current border-security provisions are untenable, it’s not because he’s been troubled by them all along and feels obliged to keep his initial promise. It’s because, despite his best efforts, the Gang of Eight simply won’t fly as-is among conservatives. He did his best to sell it and he couldn’t pull it off. Time for Plan B.
What’s Plan B? Rubio and John Cornyn revealed it today. They’re rolling out a new amendment that’ll demand more security than Schumer’s bill has:
The Texas Republican wants stricter border patrol provisional “triggers” before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards.
Cornyn’s amendment would also add 10,000 Border Patrol officers over five years and deliver emergency funds for border control, including $1 billion a year in entry staffing and infrastructure.
Breitbart’s sources on the Hill are treating this as a sign that Rubio’s trying to abandon the bill. If he raises the ante on border security high enough, Democrats will eventually choke on it and walk away. The Cornyn bill is, in theory, merely Rubio’s poison-pill way of wriggling out of this mess. I’m skeptical of that, just because I think he’s so invested in reform passing by now that he can’t quit without suffering political damage. If he walks, Democrats will attack him ferociously by claiming he bailed to appease Latino-hating Republicans. They’ll also claim, not incorrectly, that Rubio’s support was the only thing making passage possible and, therefore, once he quit he doomed the whole enterprise. Walking away now would probably help Rubio in the 2016 primaries but he doesn’t want to face the general election being labeled as the man who singlehandedly killed immigration reform, especially when the entire GOP’s expecting him to improve on the party’s take of the Latino vote if he’s nominated. He needs to vote yes, even if he’s now forced to hedge by supporting new border-security amendments; if Schumer refuses Cornyn’s amendment outright, Rubio will get to work on something else that might accommodate both sides. Look back at the excerpt from the Hewitt show and you’ll see that he didn’t threaten to walk away from the process if the new amendments don’t pass. He specifically says he’ll “keep working” until they arrive at something that can become law. But then, I’ve never understood why Schumer would put up a fuss about more security: It’s legalization he wants and that’s what he’ll get if something passes. If he needs to give a bit more legislatively on security and then leave it to Obama and his successor not to enforce the provisions of the bill too vigorously, that’s what he should do. And, per Guy Benson, that indeed is what he might do:
Speaking of Schumer, he’ll likely have to accede to the Cornyn/Rubio plan if it’s going to see the light of day. I’m hearing from plugged-in sources that he’s currently disposed to give it the green light. Will the vocal amnesty lobby play along?
Even if Schumer approves the Cornyn/Rubio amendment and it ends up passing in a final bill, it might be unenforceable in part. The amendment calls for DHS and the Comptroller of GAO to certify that the border’s been secured to the extent required by Cornyn’s and Rubio’s metrics. Per Conn Carroll, because the Comptroller’s technically an agent of the legislative branch, it might be unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent to give him authority over an executive task like border enforcement. Maybe Schumer’s counting on that — although, if I were him, I’d trust in Republicans’ desire to build goodwill with Latino voters to gut the Cornyn/Rubio requirements over time more than I would the Supreme Court.
In lieu of an exit question, read Jonathan Strong on Rubio’s latest gambit. According to him, people on the Hill who are “in the midst of this fight” are skeptical that Rubio will walk. For good reason.