Rubio goes all in, will serve as chief salesman for new immigration bill

Second look at Charlie Crist?

No, no second looks at Charlie Crist. Ever.

Rubio is planning a media blitz to promote the bill — which is expected to be released early next week — making the rounds on all of the Sunday political talk shows starting this weekend, wooing skeptical conservative radio hosts and pitching the plan to Spanish-language news outlets. The campaign is aimed at building public support for the far-reaching immigration bill that will dominate Capitol Hill’s attention for much of the year…

The Florida Republican has privately briefed individual GOP senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee — including conservative skeptics John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — about the soon-to-be-unveiled proposal, according to sources familiar with the matter. His staff has pitched the plan to conservative thought leaders, including at the National Review and Wall Street Journal editorial board as well as the columnist Charles Krauthammer, sources say…

Far from dropping out of the group, as some suspected after his tepid comments recently, Rubio will essentially become its most prominent salesman, effectively putting his political capital — and presidential ambitions — on the line in the process. With momentum behind the push, Rubio clearly has calculated it makes more sense for him to fully embrace the effort, rather than run away from it and potentially kill the measure just as it is introduced.

This line made me laugh: “The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.” What do you mean “or”? I’d bet cash money that it ends up doing both. If there’s one shining lesson from the past two presidential cycles, it’s that having a damaged brand with conservatives is no barrier to the GOP nomination. Rubio’s making a perfectly rational calculation here that he’ll gain more with Republican centrists and independents than he’ll lose with conservatives. And he’s probably right: Immigration reform is popular and some righties who end up P.O.’d at him for this will end up forgiving him for various reasons, either because they have stronger objections to other 2016 candiates, because they think Rubio’s the most electable candidate in the field, etc etc. Becoming chief salesman of this dubious bill may feel like a betrayal of conservatives but it’s actually Rubio’s way of protecting as much of his conservative cred as he can. If he’s making the effort to woo conservative thought leaders, as he did once before at the start of this process by appearing on various righty talk radio shows, then it’s harder for top conservatives to demonize him personally. You’re apt to see a lot of commentary like “This bill is crap but I know Rubio’s intentions are good and I appreciate his effort to solve intractable problems.” That sort of criticism’s not going to sting in 2016, especially since it’ll be hard to tell yet at that point whether the bill’s goals are being accomplished. And look, unless he walks away now, he’s bound to end up anyway as the Gang of Eight’s lightning rod for conservative discontent, if only because of his tea-party promise circa 2010 and the fact that he’s a frontrunner amid the next presidential field. There’s nowhere for him to hide politically if he continues to support the bill. In which case, why not own it and seize the opportunity to use his formidable communication skills in his own defense?

Rubio might also think that taking a big public role gives him extra leverage over what ends up in the final version. The chances of passage were always going to be dodgy if he walked away, but Democrats may have calculated that they could still get to 60 without him between McCain, Graham, and a few other squishes provided that Rubio kept a low profile in his opposition. No chance of that now. If the de facto chief spokesman decides to pull the plug at some point, it’ll be open season on the bill by conservatives. That would make it hard for other Republicans, especially in the House, to justify voting yes, which in turn might make Schumer et al. more reluctant at the start to frighten Rubio off by further weakening the bill. The question is, is he right that this gives him more leverage or does it actually give him less? He’ll be the face of the bill starting on Sunday; with that kind of personal investment in it, he can’t walk away lightly if Democrats decide to “tweak” a few provisions. He’s already apparently caving on his demand for multiple immigration hearings since, per Politico, it now looks like there’ll be just one token hearing in May. Rubio’s countermeasure on that may be to hold multiple Republican-only hearings on immigration over the next month, but that’s absurd. Why on earth is he partnering with Democrats on this bill if they can’t be bothered to participate in his own attempts at relevant fact-finding? It’s an egregious insult, not to mention a dereliction of their basic congressional duties to be as well-informed as they can before drafting major legislation, but apparently not so egregious to make him walk away. Byron York writes that the Senate’s failure to hold official hearings could destroy public trust in the bill but that’d be more likely if the most visible Republican among the Gang of Eight wasn’t providing them with political cover here. If you’re looking for reasons to think that Rubio’s prominence will hold Democrats in check, you’re off to a bad start.

Confidence-building exit quotation from Lindsey Graham: “If he gets off [of the Gang of Eight], I’d be surprised. And if he got off, I’d be surprised if I stayed because we think pretty much the same.”

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