A nice catch by Charlie Spiering and a rare “I told you so” opportunity for me. A few days ago, Mickey Kaus argued that it’d be tough for the GOP to pass an immigration bill next year or in 2016 without sinking Rubio’s presidential chances. I disagreed, just because I assume Rubio will end up opposing any new amnesty bill that emerges from a deal between the House and Senate. Specifically:
If Rubio decides this year he’s running, he’ll stay far away from the next immigration reform effort. The Gang of Eight bill that he quarterbacked will be officially dead once this congressional session ends so he won’t be stuck defending that anymore if he doesn’t want to. What I expect, in fact, is that once Obama makes a move this year to reduce deportations, Rubio will seize it as an excuse to throw up his hands and declare that reform is pointless as long as O’s in charge. He’s now come to realize, he’ll say, that the current president simply can’t be trusted to enforce the laws responsibly and therefore reform should be postponed until 2017 at the earliest. (Never mind that in the past Rubio’s used Obama’s unilateralism as a reason for why Congress should hurry up and pass reform right away.) That’ll ease some fears on the right about him, no matter what the House ends up doing.
Was I right? Here’s what he told the Texas Tribune yesterday, via Spiering. Skip to 41:30 of the clip below for the key bit.
“I think this administration has probably reached the point of irreconcilable differences with regards to trust, particularly among Republicans,” Rubio explained during a conversation at a Texas Tribune event on Tuesday.
Rubio pointed out that Obama’s abuse of executive power, particularly in the decision not to enforce immigration laws, was a crucial error. He characterized it as “extremely problematic” to any consensus.
Rubio admitted that the comprehensive approach to immigration reform had failed, stating that in the current political climate, it would be difficult to get any comprehensive approach to anything done.
He doesn’t say explicitly that he can no longer support immigration reform until O’s out of office but that’s clearly the upshot of the point about trust and “irreconcilable differences,” no? If you don’t trust the chief executive to enforce the laws you’ve passed and there’s no way to rebuild that trust, then logically you’re a no on reform until 2017. That’s how I’m reading this. My pal Karl adds a sly caveat, though:
@allahpundit I'd bet Rubio is a no on any immigration deal that emerges until Jeb is officially out.
— Just Karl (@justkarl) April 18, 2014
Right now Rubio needs to impress the right, in case he decides to run for president as a compromise choice between the establishment and tea partiers. And the first order of business there, naturally, is to make amends with conservatives over immigration. That means voting no on anything that comes down the pike on immigration — not because it’ll fully convince righties that he’s changed on immigration but because such ostentatious pandering to them might make him tolerable as an alternative to, say, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. If, however, Jeb decides not to run, then Rubio might try to fill his niche as the establishment champion, in which case the “vote no” plan is out the window. As the donor class’s candidate of choice, he’d have to vote yes.
Or … would he? Is it really true, at this point, that establishment Republicans would reject Rubio if he voted no on a new immigration deal this summer? I don’t think so. On the contrary — so long as passage was assured I think they’d encourage him to vote no, precisely because they realize that he needs to rebuild his conservative cred. Beltway Republicans might hate the base but they hate low turnout in elections even more. And by quarterbacking the Gang of Eight bill in the media last year, Rubio’s already proved to them that he’ll be a loyal ally on amnesty if/when he’s president. Having proved his good faith, he’s now free to oppose future immigration deals in the name of protecting himself politically, provided as his opposition doesn’t put any deal at risk. Otherwise he really will have to suck it up and vote yes.
Ultimately, I think what the donor class really requires in a nominee in 2016 is a guy who can draw a sharp contrast with Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney on this issue. They want to be able to show Latino voters that they’ve changed on immigration since 2012, even if that change hasn’t produced anything tangible in Congress. Rubio can do that for them no matter how he votes on amnesty going forward. Between his sponsorship of the Gang of Eight bill, his rhetoric encouraging legalization, and of course his heritage, he can sell the “different kind of Republican” angle even if (especially if?) nothing passes the House.