“For 30 years, this country’s been debating immigration and nothing is done on it. And so I figured, let’s try to get something going in the Senate, the best possible, given the fact that Harry Reid controls the Senate. We’ll then send it to the House, run by conservatives, and they’re going to make it a good bill,” Rubio said. “And then we’ll present it to the president and say, if you want to act on immigration, here’s the Republican offer. Take it or leave it.”
Conway then asked Rubio if he felt like he was “conned,” to which Rubio replied, “No, look, at the end of the day, I knew that what was being produced in the Senate was not what ultimately needed to become law. It most certainly was the best we could do under the circumstances we faced at the time because Harry Reid was the majority leader. And the hope was we could make it as strong as possible and then get the House to do something better.”
On what planet was a more conservative immigration bill somehow going to pass the House and Senate? As Rubio says, Democrats controlled the Senate at that point with 54 votes. The Gang of Eight was a reflection of the reality that only a delicate bipartisan compromise with goodies for both sides (but mainly for liberals) could possibly hope to reach 60 votes, which it did. Anything that came back from the House with some of the Democratic treats, like a path to citizenship, stripped out would have been DOA in the Senate. As Ted Cruz would eagerly tell you, that was the whole point of his amendment to the bill at the time: He wanted citizenship out in exchange for more work permits. The Democratic Senate, with help from Republican supporters like Rubio, shot it down. Obama and Harry Reid were less than nine months removed at the time from a huge Democratic victory in the 2012 elections which the smart set had blamed on the GOP’s brutally bad showing with Latino voters. Why, under those circumstances, would they have agreed to make their bill more conservative instead of offering a nervous John Boehner a take-it-or-leave-it deal?
The dirty little not-so-secret secret of the 2013 immigration process, which Rubio has known all along, is that there were surely 218 votes in the House for the Gang of Eight bill. There were 200 Democrats in the chamber that year; even if, say, 30 had voted no, Boehner still would have needed fewer than 50 centrist Republicans to bite the bullet and vote yes to make a majority. (If the House voted by secret ballot, I’d bet the bill would have been well north of 300 yays.) Whether or not it passed depended entirely on how badly Boehner himself wanted it to. Was he prepared to risk a ferocious backlash from the right and a possible end to his Speakership by ramming it through, knowing that the GOP’s donor class would exult and pundits would proclaim that Republicans had finally “learned their lesson” from the 2012 election? Nope, as it turned out. Boehner wasn’t ready to lose his job yet. That was ultimately the most damaging thing to happen to Rubio during the Gang of Eight saga, I think. If Boehner and 50 or so RINOs had passed the bill, they would have become the main lightning rod for conservative upset instead of Rubio. The bill would now be implemented as law and Rubio would inevitably be pointing to some of the security improvements at the border as “proof” that it was a great idea and that it just needs time to work. He’d be the darling of the donor class, the Latino star who’d manage to achieve what even George W. Bush couldn’t. Jeb might not even have run. Conservatives would still be angry with Rubio but he’d be treating the bill as a legit achievement. Instead he wants you to believe that the Gang of Eight plan was simply a sort of opening offer to the House to which he’d hoped they’d counter. It wasn’t, and immigration reform never could have worked that way. It was take-it-or-leave-it from the beginning. Rubio wanted them to take it.
Ask yourself this. If Rubio was hoping for a more conservative bill from the House and a long process of negotiation between the two chambers, why would he have said this in August 2013, two months after the Gang of Eight bill passed?
Stalling on Capitol Hill might force the president’s hand, the Florida Republican said. That could result in a mass legalization of undocumented immigrants without any of the reforms included in the Senate-passed immigration bill that Rubio played a key role in writing and negotiating. Rubio said continued delay in Congress could create a scenario in which the nation misses out on his bill’s technological advances along the border with Mexico, drones, cameras, more Border Patrol agents and a national E-Verify system…
“I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, he will be tempted to issue an executive order like he did for the DREAM Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen. Now, we won’t get an E-Verify, we won’t get any border security. But he’ll legalize them,” the Florida senator told Tallahassee radio host Preston Scott.
He wasn’t wrong about that — King Barack did indeed end up legalizing millions of illegals by royal decree in November 2014 — but why was Rubio using that argument to twist the House’s arm while Boehner was debating what to do in the summer of 2013? If Obama’s likely reaction to congressional inaction would have been to legalize illegals summarily, presumably he would have reacted the same way if the House had countered with a more conservative immigration bill (almost certainly without a path to citizenship, a dealbreaker for Dems) and deadlocked with the Senate. The clear thrust of “act soon or else Obama will” from Rubio was that the only action that might avert executive amnesty was passing the Gang of Eight bill expeditiously. In which case, what’s Rubio talking about when he says he hoped the House would come back with a bill better than the one the Senate had produced? And what on earth does he mean in the first excerpt above when he says he wanted Republicans at the time to make a take-it-or-leave-it offer to Obama? The whole point of his “act soon or else Obama will” argument was that Republicans were in no position to make that kind of offer. Good lord.
Exit question via Erick Erickson: Does Rubio have a path to the nomination by cleaning up in blue states, which come later in the primary calendar this year? In theory he could lose New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc, and still surge into the delegate lead as the weeks roll by and more centrist Republican electorates, like New York’s and California’s, start voting. If he can hang around the race, he’s well positioned. But that’s a big if, as Erickson concedes; without any early wins, the storyline on Rubio will quickly become “disappointment.” I’d add that the same logic about moderate blue states that might keep Rubio going is also likely to keep Trump going. Trump might lose Iowa and the SEC primary to Cruz, but why wouldn’t he hang in there to compete in delegate-rich less conservative states like his home state of New York? Unless Trump underperforms badly early on, he has every incentive to think he can come back against Cruz by continuing to run hard in blue states. Which leaves Rubio … where?