Rubio: Actually, maybe a comprehensive approach isn't the way to go on immigration right now

He claims in the clip below that he’s always preferred a sequential, piecemeal approach to immigration to the comprehensive one. True or false? Here’s what his spokesman said last November:

Conant says Rubio is no fan of comprehensive immigration reform, though he will examine other legislators’ proposals with an open mind.

“Senator Rubio has always said that the best way to tackle immigration reform is not comprehensively, but sequentially,” he tells the News. “Rather than trying to pass everything in one big bill that a lot of people are going to find fault with, you pass things one at a time and find some consensus, starting with measures dealing with the children of illegal immigrants. When we get that done, then we can move on to other problems with our system.”

So it’s true. He did prefer a piecemeal approach! …And then, less than three months later, he stood at the podium as a member of the Gang of Eight and endorsed a comprehensive immigration bill. That’s an awfully fast conversion, so much so that, given the timeline, I’d be surprised if no one from the inchoate Gang had already approached him to feel him out about a comprehensive bill by the time his office issued that statement backing piecemeal reform in November. In fact, the whole reason the other Gang members wanted Rubio on board is because they knew they’d need to sell comprehensive reform to the right and they figured he was the one guy in the Senate with enough conservative cred (and national ambitions) that he’d be willing to try. It’s one thing to grudgingly vote for a comprehensive bill even though you’d rather have something smaller; it’s another to act as chief salesman for a comprehensive bill to a group of people who supported your election to the Senate because they naively thought you’d be a bulwark against amnesty sell-outs like the Gang bill. Go back over the past nine months and you’ll find Rubio repeatedly defending the wisdom of granting probationary legalization to illegals without first insisting on border-security improvements — the core objection of border hawks to the Gang’s bill and the main comprehensivist sin that a piecemeal approach is supposed to avoid. If he thinks security shouldn’t absolutely come first, before legalization, why did he ever support a piecemeal approach to begin with?

What he’s really admitting here, in emphasizing that the consensus doesn’t exist now in Congress to get a comprehensive bill through, is that his sales efforts failed. He needed to convince grassroots righties that having their congressman or Senator vote for legalization without security guarantees would be acceptable. He didn’t. Now here’s the new statement from his office. It’s not that he suddenly thinks a comprehensive approach is bad, it’s just that it’s obviously going nowhere at this point:

“The country needs to solve our immigration problems — and to solve them will require eventually dealing with every aspect of it. The Senate has already dealt with this issue, and Senator Rubio has always said we should give the House the time and space they need to figure which reforms they can support. But in order to make progress, we need to be realistic in our expectations. An ‘all or nothing’ strategy on immigration reform would result in nothing. What is keeping us from progress on a series of immigration issues on which there is strong consensus is the fear that a conference committee on a limited bill will be used to negotiate a comprehensive one. We should take that option off the table so that we can begin to move on the things we agree on.”

That’s been the big conservative fear since the Gang of Eight bill passed the Senate — that Boehner and the House would pass something more modest on immigration and then, during a conference committee on the two bills with the Senate, the GOP leadership would cave and agree to bring the Gang’s bill (or something substantially similar) to the floor for a vote in the House. Rubio’s office told Breitbart this weekend, “Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail, because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill.” In other words, some tea-party champion in the Senate could try to stop a conference by objecting — and if you think Rubio’s immigration headache is bad now, imagine if Ted Cruz tried to galvanize grassroots conservatives again by vowing to block a conference on Rubio’s own Gang of Eight bill. That’s why Rubio’s backing away on “consensus” grounds, I take it. Now, if someone tries to block the conference, he can say that he agrees with them and thinks sequential piecemeal bills are the only realistic option.

With Rubio’s support for comprehensive reform gone, that’s probably the end for comprehensive reform anytime soon. Time to forgive and forget? No way, says Mickey Kaus:

Ann Coulter seems willing to forgive Rubio**–a sound tactical position, given that if you oppose amnesty you want to give its supporters an incentive to jump ship. For the record, I agree. But just between us, I don’t. I will never forgive Rubio.*** First, it’s pretty obvious he’s only abandoning amnesty because he has to face the voters. Like John McCain, who goes into comprehensivist remission every 6 years, he’ll be back pushing it as soon as the voting’s over. He was for protecting illegal immigrants before he was against it, let’s remember (that’s before he was for it again). With the immigration debate heading into a crucial month, even transparently insincere converts are welcome, of course. But don’t pretend the slate has been wiped clean.

Second, the level of slick mendacity Rubio achieved while attempting to sell the comprehensive bill he now disowns should rule him out of consideration for national office. He tries to con people, and he’s good at it. Just not good enough to fool the GOP primary electorate.

Exit question: Is it even true, as Rubio’s office claims, that there’s not enough consensus to pass comprehensive reform? One of Obama’s pet talking points lately on immigration is that there is consensus, that if Boehner would simply bring the Gang of Eight bill to the floor, he’d surely get 190 or so Democrats plus 30-40 Republicans. And he’s right! There may not be consensus among House Republicans, but there’s consensus among the entire House. And thanks to the futility of the “defund” effort this past month, House RINOs might be a bit more willing to pander on immigration in the name of rehabbing the party’s crumbling favorable rating by voting for comprehensive reform, even if it alienates some grassroots righties. That is to say, the whole “no consensus” excuse for abandoning the Gang’s bill seems like just that to me — an excuse, which Rubio’s now using surreally to say that the bill he helped write and which passed the Senate overwhelmingly should be quietly dropped rather than risk a conference committee process on it that conservatives will dislike.

Update: Another way to put it:

Update: And yet another way to put it: