Marco Rubio Commits to Immigration Reform

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been involved with immigration-reform talks since the beginning of the year, but there’s always been a question of his commitment—does Rubio want to pass a bill, or does he just want the political benefits of advocacy without the substantive trouble of legislating? If this sounds cynical, recall that—at almost every turn over the last few months—Rubio has threatened to derail talks over a series of non-issues, accusing Democrats of supporting amnesty and rushing negotiations, though neither has happened.

But with the announcement of a bill from the Senate “Gang of Eight,” Rubio has moved from wavering critic to straightforward ally. As Pema Levy reports for Talking Points Memo, Rubio took center stage on several talk shows yesterday, making a full-throated pitch to his fellow Republicans on the need for a comprehensive bill, and the advantages of the one on the table:

To Sen. Lee’s preference for a piecemeal approach, Rubio argued that the comprehensive bill is divided into segments and that each segment is being treated independently. “Through our negotiations, we’ve been able to keep these segments separate from each other,” he said. “In essence, we haven’t had to trade less border security in exchange for a modernized system… As long as the product stays that way, it will be defensible.”

On contentious pathway to citizenship question, Rubio vigorously argued against the accusation that the Gang of Eight’s plan amounts to amnesty. “I would argue to you that it will be  cheaper, faster and easier for people to go back home and wait 10 years than it will be to go through this process I’ve outlined,” Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s why it’s not amnesty.”

The question now is whether GOP lawmakers will buy what Rubio is selling. The broader Republican Party seems to understand the need for immigration reform, even if various elites are overstating the extent to which it will help win Latino voters. But passing a bill requires buy-in from a critical number of senators—not just votes, but a promise not to filibuster the proposal. Is that feasible? Judging from the latest Senate news, maybe not. As Politico reports, recent attempts at bipartisanship have been hampered by bad blood and "toxic relationships":

And while the leaders don’t get along, relationships among the other 98 senators will be tested when voting begins on the controversial gun and immigration measures—starting with this week’s expected vote on expanding background checks for firearms purchases. McConnell plans to pull out all the stops to block the bill, and GOP senators are blasting any immigration plan that they say smells of “amnesty.”

That’s just the Senate. House Republicans, their own seats made even safer by redistricting, are in no hurry bring up immigration, gun control or revenue issues or cave into the Obama administration or Democrats.

For now, in other words, any optimism about the immigration-reform bill must be tempered by the fact that Republicans just aren’t interested in working with Democrats, regardless of the issue. Obviously, we’ll see what happens. But my hopes aren’t high.