I’m … not sure why we should believe the guy who got elected to the Senate denouncing earned citizenship as code for amnesty and then turned around in 2013 and co-wrote an “earned citizenship” bill. The list of Rubio deceptions on immigration is very long indeed.
But since the hour is late and Trumpageddon will soon be upon us in South Carolina, here’s Rubio kinda sorta trying to reassure border hawks for your voting consideration.
“I think people will be reasonable but responsible how to deal with that, but it’s got to be something that the American people support — it can’t be something we ram down their throat and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’” he said.
Rubio vowed that he wouldn’t do anything on immigration until the he secured the border in a way that the American people could “believe and see with your own eyes.”
“We’ll see what you’ll support, we’re not going to ram it down your throat,” he said.
He pointed out that President Obama was doing it backwards by offering amnesty to children of legal immigrants without securing the border. Human traffickers took advantage of the situation, he explained, by lying to parents in Latin American countries about what was possible and creating an influx of illegal immigrants.
As far as I’m aware, Rubio has never categorically rejected a comprehensive deal on immigration, even after he started running away from the Gang of Eight bill. He’s said many times that he favors a “security first” approach right now, because Obama’s executive amnesty destroyed the Democrats’ credibility as honest brokers. But that’s a personnel problem, not a matter of principle. Change the personnel in the White House and maybe comprehensive reform is viable again. What he seems to be saying here, though, is that even President Rubio would have little choice at this point but to insist on “security first” instead of comprehensive reform. If you take him at his word, that’s a positive development. (It’s also yet another case, a la Cruz shifting from being open to legalization to ruling it out under any circumstances, of Trump pushing the rest of the field to the right on amnesty.) But that gets us back to the problem of taking him at his word. There are ways to fudge the idea of “security first”; one proposal kicked around Washington over the years is to hold off on legalizing anyone until Congress passes a plan to secure the border, not until the border is actually secure. Rubio seems to be promising more than that here by emphasizing improvements you can “believe and see with your own eyes,” but his pal Chuck Schumer isn’t going to happily acquiesce to that. What will the compromise be on measurable improvements? One or two months of data showing a higher rate of deportations, say? A flat number of new hires for the Border Patrol? Realistically, border hawks should want to see several years of security improvements before legalization is taken up. That’s not going to happen so long as Democrats have 41 seats in the Senate. And Democrats have never had fewer than 41 seats in the Senate.
The best argument you can make for believing that Rubio’s more of a border hawk now than he used to be is that a man who’s been punched in the face repeatedly for three years over something he did wrong may well have a certain clarity about not repeating that wrongdoing in the future. For Rubio, that’s arguably doubly true: Not only did he take a beating from the right as a senator, he’s stuck playing catch-up with Ted Cruz in presidential polls even though his favorables are extremely high and he’s widely seen as the most “electable” Republican in the race. However much he may yearn for amnesty in his heart, there’s at least an argument that he’s learned to fear conservatives sufficiently — especially after the Trump tsunami — that he doesn’t dare repeat his old mistake again as president. The counterargument to that is that Paul Ryan is more of a true blue amnesty fan than Boehner was and might look to force the issue of amnesty onto Rubio’s plate as president. That’s a risk, but of course Ryan is watching the polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina too. His House majority right now is about as large as it can realistically get. There’s nowhere to go but down, and given the propulsion Trump is getting from immigration, a new amnesty bill would be a really obvious way to jeopardize that House majority by convincing lots of Republicans to stay home in 2018. I used to think that, if Rubio became president, he’d try for immigration reform early in his administration, when he can take advantage of his honeymoon period with voters to minimize the ferocity of the backlash. (He’d want to do it as far away from an election as possible, which means 2017 instead of 2018 or even 2019, when Rubio would be thinking about reelection.) Now, after Trump, I don’t know. Even if Trump were to collapse tomorrow, this has been a near-death experience for the modern Republican coalition. Responding to Trumpmania by pushing another comprehensive reform bill right out of the chute would be de facto suicide by the GOP leadership, one last blaze of RINO glory before the whole party shatters. It’s at least arguable that even a Gang of Eight alum like Rubio has learned his lesson from his own near-death experience in the primaries. If only we could trust him.