This reeks of kabuki, a deliberate leak aimed at shoring up Rubio’s credibility among conservatives as criticism of him from the right gets louder. They’re aiming for 70 votes for the Gang of Eight bill in the Senate, which means at least 15 Republicans, and the more heat Rubio takes for selling out on enforcement, the less likely GOP fencesitters are to take a tough vote in his favor.

And yet, Rubio has moved quickly and conspicuously lately from outright support for Cornyn’s amendment (supposedly he worked on it with Cornyn “for weeks”) to a presumably softer alternative amendment that he’s drafting with Tom Coburn. (That’s the one that’s coming next week, I take it.) That suggests that maybe the Gang really did pull him aside and have a word with him. When Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham tell you that you’ve gone too far in trying to secure the border, then darn it, you’ve gone too far.

Republican and Democratic senators in the “gang of eight” immigration reform group gave Marco Rubio an earful at a private meeting this week, telling him they were frustrated with his public embrace of overly conservative border security measures and his failure to adequately communicate with them over strategy, which they said was putting reform at risk, I’m told…

Publicly, Senators have mostly remained mum as Rubio has flirted with conservative demands for more border security. But in the private meeting, Republican and Democratic senators in the gang of eight expressed “frustration” with Rubio over the manner in which he publicly embraced the John Cornyn amendment, which mandates hard border security “triggers” as a precondition for citizenship in a manner Dems find unacceptable, the source tells me.

In particular, they complained that Rubio’s manner of endorsing the Cornyn plan had made it easier for other GOP Senators whose support is deemed gettable on the gang of eight compromise to instead latch on to something far more conservative (the Cornyn plan) that the rest of the gang will not support. As feared, uncommitted Republican Senators are beginning to clamber aboard the Cornyn “hard trigger” express.

That’s from lefty Greg Sargent. Since this was leaked to him rather than to a conservative amnesty skeptic, it raises the possibility that it’s actually kabuki aimed at the lefty base to convince them that Schumer et al. are working diligently to prevent the bill’s phony border-enforcement “trigger” from becoming slightly (and only slightly) less phony. Or maybe it’s actually double conservative kabuki, designed not only to shore up Rubio’s right-wing cred but to frame Cornyn’s amendment, which is hardly draconian, as some sort of incredibly hard-ass border-security measure whose eventual acceptance into the Gang’s bill will be presented as proof of total GOP victory to skeptical conservatives. Or, just maybe, it’s kabuki within kabuki within kabuki. I’m … not sure how, or what that would look like, but I’m hoping/expecting a theory from Mickey Kaus’s next post.

In case you’re a liberal who thinks Cornyn’s border-security is unacceptably hawkish even though, per the last link, it isn’t at all, good news — Cornyn himself is willing to water it down for you.

Cornyn told Republican colleagues at a meeting Wednesday that he would consider making changes to his amendment to bolster the border-security provisions of the Senate bill.

His willingness to negotiate left some Republicans convinced after the meeting that he would strike a deal with the Gang of Eight and vote for final passage. His support would help the legislation pass overwhelmingly…

Cornyn said he’s willing to modify proposal but will not concede on what he calls its “fundamental substance.”

“There are certain elements that are non-negotiable, specifically the mechanism by which we would guarantee the security measures in the bill would actually be implemented,” he said.

We’ll see how non-negotiable it is. Cornyn’s up for reelection next November and has spent the past year terrified of Texas tea partiers doing to him what they helped Ted Cruz do to David Dewhurst last July. A running joke in political media is that Cruz now effectively has two votes in the Senate because Cornyn is worried about being seen as breaking with him on anything. And yet, despite all that and despite the fact that Cruz has opposed the Gang’s bill, here’s Cornyn making noise about weakening his own border-security amendment in the interest of helping out the Gang of Eight. That’s how badly the Republican establishment wants this bill to pass.

You’ll be pleased to know that Boehner, whose intentions on immigration reform are worrisomely opaque so far, met with Rubio privately on Wednesday. Surely nothing bad can come from that, with the House supposedly the last line of defense in stopping the bill that Rubio’s trying to sell. Via Byron York and RCP, here he is in an interview with Andrea Tantaros making a novel argument for amnesty: We need to put illegals on a path to citizenship because the fines they’ll pay will end up paying for the new border security measures in the Gang’s bill. Skip to 3:25 for the key bit. I’m keen to see the numbers he has to back that up, but in the meantime look on the bright side: Twenty years from now, after many millions more illegals have made it over the border, they’ll be able to pay for the border-security measures included in the next amnesty. This is all zeroing out, America.