Via Byron York, don’t accuse the man of inconsistency. He’s defended “legalization first” since the very beginning of this process; his demands about border-security triggers have only ever applied to the second step in the path to citizenship, the green-card process after illegals have been given probationary legal status so that they can stay and work. It’s probationary status to which most border hawks object since it gives illegals a stake in residency that’ll never, ever be withdrawn no matter what happens on the border. What makes yesterday’s statement noteworthy is simply the fact that Rubio’s been tiptoeing to the right lately on immigration as prospects for passage in the House have begun to look dicier. He supported Cornyn’s amendment demanding more exacting standards for border control. Would he, perchance, also withdraw his key concession to the Democrats, namely, legalization first?

Nope, not a chance.

Salina to Rubio: You said this week that you would be inclined to vote against the legislation that you yourself helped to write unless there were some amendments that would strengthen even more the security of the border. Would you be willing to throw everything overboard?

Rubio: No, I am 100 percent committed to the issue of migration, immigration reform. To the contrary, I am going to continue working to ensure that that does not happen. My point is that if we can’t secure the border, if we can’t take the steps necessary to win the confidence of our colleagues, this is never going to become law, and we are wasting our time. But I don’t think we’re going to reach that point. I simply think that if we achieve a reasonable means … to secure the border and prevent any kind of other wave of illegal immigration in the future, we will have more than enough votes.

Rubio, responding to the concern that legalization might be delayed and therefore be subjected to the policies of future administrations: Let’s be clear. Nobody is talking about preventing the legalization. The legalization is going to happen. That means the following will happen: First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border. And then comes the process of permanent residence. What we’re talking about here is the system of permanent residence. As for the legalization, the enormous majority of my colleagues have accepted that it has to happen and that it has to begin at the same time we begin the measures for [the border]. It is not conditional. The legalization is not conditional.

Why won’t he demand border security before legalization, as Rand Paul suggested a few months ago should happen? Because that would kill the bill and Rubio’s committed to seeing something pass. Unconditional legalization is the jackpot prize for Democrats in all this, even more than an up-front guarantee of citizenship after the border’s secured. Nail down legalization and a citizenship process will surely follow later, if only because pressure from Latino voters on Republicans to pass it will ensure that it does. Rubio’s essentially being forced to choose between making a take-it-or-leave-it offer of “security first, legalization second,” which would win back conservatives at the price of scaring Democrats away and inviting endless demagoguery from them about him having killed the bill, or accepting their “legalization first, security second” demand. I think he’s calculating, unfortunately quite rationally, that conservatives are far more likely to forgive him for selling out their core interest in the name of winning over Latinos than general-election voters are if he becomes known as The Man Who Killed Reform. So he’ll give the Dems “legalization first” and focus instead on making the border security in step two as tight as he can. That’s the best way to balance general-election voters and Republican primary voters. It’s also why, I assume, Rubio would never agree to Mickey Kaus’s idea to give up on a big comprehensive bill and start small with a confidence-building compromise that would institute E-Verify in exchange for DREAM amnesty for younger illegals. Anything short of a big bill at this point will be used against him by Democrats eager to frame him as in thrall to conservatives and therefore “too radical” to get things done in Washington as president. For Rubio it’s comprehensive reform or bust, even if that means selling out on the key legalization provision.

Meanwhile, here’s Kelly Ayotte, revealing yesterday on “Face the Nation” that she too is the sort of establishment Republican liar who’ll run against amnesty when she needs to win a Republican nomination and then quickly revert to comprehensive reform once she’s safely in power. (She also needed to show New Hampshirites that she’s not the wingnutty wingnut Mike Bloomberg’s group keeps claiming she is for voting against expanded background checks.) She and Rubio will work together wonderfully in the years ahead. Oh, and if you’re expecting the House to put the brakes on all this, read Politico’s new piece about Boehner’s thinking on immigration. He wants GOP-run committees to start moving on reform with an eye to having a bill on the floor before the July 4th recess. Full speed ahead.