Jeff Sessions counters Rubio: I don't remember the Gang of Eight hoping that House conservatives would improve the bill

So Rubio’s still sticking with the lame, deceitful claim that somehow the Gang of Eight bill was just an opening offer to the House, eh? Here’s what he said yesterday in South Carolina:

The Senate immigration law was not headed towards becoming law. Ideally, it was headed towards the House where conservatives members of the House were going to make it even better. It was the best we could do given the fact of who was running the Senate at the time, but it was never going to go from there to the President’s desk. And those were one of the things that I complained about. In fact, I was saying these standards are too low, it’ll never pass the House and it’ll never become law and on final passage we can’t do it… the Senate law is not going to be the way we confront this issue when I’m president.

I wrote at length about this last month when he made the same claim in Iowa. You can understand why he likes this spin: To an uneducated voter, it’s totally plausible. This is, after all, how things are supposed to work in Congress — one chamber passes something, the other chamber passes something, then they huddle in a conference committee and hammer out a compromise between the two. If you didn’t follow the immigration reform push closely, it would make sense to you that Rubio expected a counteroffer from the conservative House. If you did follow it, though, you know that the whole point of the Gang of Eight bill was that that sort of approach never would have worked with a subject as delicate as immigration. The last time the Senate made a serious push on immigration, in 2007, the effort fell apart when a poison pill amendment aimed at undermining the proposed guest-worker program narrowly passed — with help from Barack Obama. The parties (or at least the conservative part of the GOP) are too far apart on immigration to forge a compromise that’s strong enough to withstand new demands from each side in negotiations. If, for instance, the House had come back to the Senate and insisted that the path to citizenship in the bill be stripped out, Democrats would have walked. If Democrats had insisted on even quicker legalization of illegals, the House would have walked. Immigration compromises are too delicate to be jostled around by the usual legislative arm-wrestling.

Which, of course, is why a “Gang” was needed to introduce the Gang of Eight bill in the first place. The point of offering a bill co-drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans is that the two sides have already given as much as each is reasonably willing to give and therefore the compromise they’ve come to must be accepted essentially as is. That’s why all eight members of the Gang agreed to vote in unison against any amendments to the bill, even if those amendments came from their own side. Any amendment that passed would have upset the fragile compromise that the Gang itself had reached in writing the bill together. If Cruz’s amendment proposing more guest workers in return for no path to citizenship had passed, Schumer would have pulled the plug on the whole deal. The bill was what it was, take it or leave it. Now Rubio’s out there telling voters that no, actually, he was hoping the House would counter with something more conservative — knowing full well that that would have meant stalemate with Senate Democrats. Question: If Rubio couldn’t persuade Schumer inside the Gang to make the bill more conservative, why would he think Boehner’s counteroffer would do the trick? He’ll never admit it but the Gang’s tacit hope was that Boehner and the GOP establishment were so eager to have a chance to pass immigration reform and finally get it off the table that Boehner might simply accept the Gang’s bill as-is and pass it with a coalition of House Democrats and centrist Republicans. And ironically, it was Marco Rubio’s task within the Gang to make that outcome as feasible as possible by going on cable news and conservative talk radio at every opportunity to sell the bill. If Rubio, leveraging his popularity on the right and Republican voters’ fears that immigration was fatal to Romney’s candidacy, had managed to talk conservatives into grudgingly accepting the Gang’s compromise, Boehner might have rubber-stamped it in hopes that the fallout wouldn’t be too terrible. As it is, because Rubio failed, Boehner couldn’t muster the nerve. And now here’s Rubio insisting he was hoping Boehner — John Boehner! — was going to be the rock-ribbed, hard-bargain-driving conservative that Rubio himself somehow failed to be within the Gang’s internal negotiations.

As I say, read last month’s post for a fuller treatment, including a memory of Rubio twisting the House’s arm by warning that if something didn’t pass Congress then Obama would simply order an executive amnesty. (True enough.) If Rubio was prepared to have the House make a very conservative take-it-or-leave-it offer to Schumer and Obama, why was he out there warning Republicans not to let Obama walk away on immigration for fear of what he might do? And if in fact he thought the Gang’s final product was so weak that “I was saying these standards are too low, it’ll never pass the House and it’ll never become law,” why did he agree to vote for the bill anyway? What sane conservative in Washington would gamble on John Boehner’s willingness to hold the line in the other chamber?