Rubio pushed immigration deal to the right

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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It’s one thing for Republicans to say they want to reform immigration policy, but the real test will be how they respond to the notion that a deal might actually pass.

Some will likely conclude that any bipartisan deal means our side is being “played.” This, of course, is a catch-22 — sort of like Groucho Marx’s line about not wanting to belong to any club that would accept him as a member.

Sen. Marco Rubio, of course, has the most on the line. Unlike some of the other Republicans leading the push for reform, Rubio is widely viewed as a solid conservative (so is Sen. Jeff Flake, who has endorsed the principles, as well).

What is more, Rubio is obviously a potential presidential candidate.

Immigration reform is a hot button issue within the conservative base, so his involvement was a sort of profile in courage. The issue nearly cost John McCain the nomination in 2008 — and Mitt Romney used it as a cudgel against Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in 2012.

But if one concedes that our current system is broken and unsustainable — that something must be done to fix it — and that Republicans would be politically foolish to allow themselves to continue to be cast as “anti-immigrant” — then it’s clear Rubio’s involvement is crucial.

Having said that, despite his rhetorical leadership on the issue, Rubio is merely one of the senate players involved in the so-called “Gang of Eight.” In that capacity, he has, no doubt, pushed the framework in a conservative direction. But he’s one of eight senators charged with crafting the framework of a deal.

A few recent news stories highlight this:

The New York Times:

Rubio… had insisted on including the exit tracking system as one of the triggers for opening the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Rubio cited estimates that as many as 40 percent of immigrants in the country illegally had overstayed their visas. … Rubio’s ideas are for a far longer and less direct pathway than Democrats would like.

The Washington Post:

 Rubio has insisted that those who came to the country illegally must wait in line behind those who pursued legal routes, a view he reiterated in a Sunday op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Los Angeles Times:

 The Senate plan is more conservative than President Obama’s proposal, which he plans to unveil Tuesday in a speech in Las Vegas. … In their discussions, Rubio focused on strengthening employee-verification provisions and improving border security before the new class of immigrants could be eligible for citizenship, a Senate aide said.

Rubio may not get everything he pushes for, but the deal will be much better by virtue of his pushing. So far, we’ve only seen a framework. Conservatives will have to wait to see an actual bill before deciding if this is worth backing.

Regardless, according to one Republican Senate aide I spoke to, “Sen. Rubio really pushed this group to accept some conservative principles.” He “insisted that illegals cannot receive any federal benefits under the new reforms. And the security triggers are much stronger than any previous reforms.”

“If Sen. Rubio wasn’t in the room fighting for the conservative principles,” the Senate aide continued, “this bipartisan group would have been more likely to simply push recycled proposals from the past that are unacceptable to conservatives.”

It’s unclear whether or not this will pass — or whether or not conservatives will deem it acceptable. Regardless, it is clear that Rubio’s input made the deal not only more palatable to conservatives — but also better legislation, as well.

Matt K. Lewis