A nice hit by Tim Mak of the Daily Beast, although it’s one of those stories where you read it and think, “Did I already know this?” I don’t think I’ve ever written about Rubio and in-state tuition but the details seemed familiar. And sure enough, with a little googling you find that various biographical profiles of him over the last few years have mentioned it, usually in passing. Time magazine flagged it in 2013, as did the Tampa Bay Times in a story a year later. It popped up again in 2015 in National Journal’s long treatment of what kind of leader Rubio might be as president. It gets overlooked, I think, because it’s a small blemish on his record compared to the much larger stain from the Gang of Eight. And like the Gang of Eight bill, his tuition bill in the state legislature didn’t even become law.
But if you’re looking for evidence of who the “real Rubio” is on immigration, in case that was still in any doubt, here you go.
Rubio has since distanced himself from the immigration reform effort he once championed. But back in 2003 and 2004, he was even more generous to undocumented immigrants. Rubio and [David] Rivera co-sponsored legislation that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition in community colleges and state universities.
Those who resided in the state and attended a Florida high school for three years prior to graduation would be able to pay in-state tuition, the legislation proposed, if the student pledged to file an application to be a U.S. permanent resident as soon as he or she is able to do so…
In Oct. 2011, Rubio said that “As a general rule, people in the United States who are here without documents should not benefit from programs like in-state tuition.”
But in 2014, he said that a law permitting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants “should be something they could consider… I think the better approach is to solve the immigration problem at the federal level.”
He was still in pre-Gang “true conservative” mode in 2011. By 2014, he was post-Gang and looking to make nice with the donor class before running for president. “It surprises no one that Rubio has been a consistent supporter of policies that encourage more and more illegal immigration,” Ted Cruz’s spokesman told the Daily Beast. (Cruz opposed in-state tuition for illegals during his Senate run in 2012.) In-state tuition wasn’t Rubio’s only foray into immigration policy while a member of the Florida House, though. After he’d become speaker, the topic of sanctuary cities came up. Here’s what the Tampa Bay Times piece linked above from 2014 says about it:
In a sign of how closely his record is being reviewed, a Republican rival reminds us that a bill to prevent sanctuary cities in Florida died under Rubio’s watch as speaker of the Florida House.
The legislation from then Rep. Don Brown, a Republican from north Florida, was one of several bills that were killed.
Rubio denied he was the factor, but supporters of the bills were outraged. His office was besieged with phone calls from people complaining about the lack of movement.
“There is nothing the state of Florida can do unilaterally to solve global warming. And there is nothing we can do unilaterally to solve immigration,” said Rubio, the first Cuban-American to become House speaker, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2008.
Maybe President Rubio can “solve global warming.” As for unilaterally solving immigration, that’s a red herring. He wasn’t being asked at the time to solve all of America’s immigration problems, he was being asked to advance a bill that would bar sanctuary cities in Florida specifically. Other states have managed to do that. Why couldn’t they? Was it because comprehensive immigration reform was all the rage among the national GOP leadership even at the time and a young aspiring senator didn’t want to get crosswise with them when he might need their support later?
But none of this much matters. It’s grist for the mill if you dislike Rubio, but if you like him or are open to him in spite of (or because of) the Gang of Eight, what he did or didn’t do in Florida 10 years ago isn’t going to be the dealbreaker. The fact remains that he’s the only game in town if you’re anti-Trump and anti-Cruz. His latest endorsement, from Jason Chaffetz, appeared just this morning. Plenty more to come before Iowans caucus, no doubt.