Rubio: Avoiding Immigration Bill Was ‘Smarter Thing’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged May 13 that his support for an immigration-boosting bill has damaged him — but also promised he would try again to pass the controversial legislation.

“I get that, politically, that would have been a smarter thing” to let other legislators draft the bill, Rubio told reporters at a D.C. event in the National Press Club.

But “for this country to move forward in the 21st century, it needs to solve this,” Rubio stated.

“I made a decision a long time ago when I got involved in public service that I would do so to make a difference, not simply to score points,” he said.

“Sometimes that makes you well liked, sometimes that make you controversial, but that’s the only thing that makes it worth it,” Rubio said, after saying public opposition is cause by fear that the bill would not stop future illegal immigration.

Polls show the public strongly oppose illegal immigration and Rubio’s call for a greater inflow of skilled foreign workers.

Rubio’s statements came the day before progressives and business leaders renewed their well-funded campaign to persuade top GOP leaders that their party would gain from passage of the Senate’e 2013 immigration bill.

The offensive included speeches from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer, and a May 14 op-ed from a political consultant active in the Tea Party movement, Sal Russo. The campaign includes a media-outreach campaign by Grover Norquist, plus a small-scale business-funded poll that claims to show support for an immigration bill among Tea Party activists.

Advocates for reduced immigration immediately fought back. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for example, used a floor speech to argue that Americans’ wages would shrink if the immigration increase becomes law.

“If you bring in 30 million people in the next ten years, as this [Rubio-drafted] bill would do — tripling the number that would normally be given legal status in America — it would bring down the per-person wealth and it would bring down wages,” Sessions said in a Senate speech.

“There is no disputing that, yet we have Senators who repeatedly speak on the floor and say this is going to increase wages,” he said. “Give me a break… It’s the opposite of reality,” said Sessions, who is pushing the GOP to adopt a lower labor-supply, higher-wage policy.

Last June, the Congressional Budget Office reported that Senate bill’s planned inflow of new workers would freeze or cut Americans’ wages for at least a decade, and also shift more of the nation’s income away from wage earners and towards investors for 20 years. In April, the New York Times reported that employees’ share of the nation’s annual income fell in 2012 to the lowest level in 63 years, and companies’ profits reached an after-tax, 85-year record share.

Erick Erickson, the top editor at RedState.com, jumped in with an editorial slamming legislators’ failure to reverse President Barack Obama’s reduced enforcement of immigration law. “It is sickening to hear one Republican or phony conservative after another not only ignore the 10-alarm fire at our border and actually refer to Obama’s pyromania as ‘immigration reform,'” he wrote.

In his May 13 event at the press club, Rubio said some of the public’s opposition to the Senate bill was reasonable. “Quite frankly, much of the opposition that we faced to the bill was legitimate objections that people had and real concerns that need to be addressed,” he said.

But he also said that the “main impediment” to the bill’s progress is the public’s worry about more illegal immigration.

“What they fear, is that a decade from now, we’ll have another 12 million people here, that we’ll have a repeat of this problem as happened after the 1986 reform,” he said.

However, numerous polls show that the public wants lower levels of immigration and also strongly opposes companies’ use of short-term guest-workers in place of American blue-collar and professional workers.

The bill that Rubio developed in cooperation with Schumer, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, would have sharply increased the current inflow of legal immigrants above 1 million, and would double the current inflow of roughly 650,000 guest workers.

Standard economic theory — and nearly all economists — say the extra supply of foreign labor would shrink most Americans’ wages, unless the economy grew faster than the population.

Rubio has repeatedly stressed his support for companies’ greater use of foreign professional workers. “I believe that for this country to move forward in the 21st century… it needs to have a legal immigration system that allows us to win the global competition for talent,” he said at the press club.

The support for foreign workers — and its implied dismissal of American workers — proved damaging to Rubio when the New Yorker published a behind-the-scenes description of the Senate’s immigration debate.

“Rubio sided with the Chamber against the construction workers” who opposed visas for foreign workers, according to the New Yorker. The article quoted a Rubio aide saying that “there are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it… There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. And so you can’t obviously discuss that publicly.”

But Rubio argues that the public supports his call for more foreign workers, and for some rules that would allow 12 million illegal immigrants to stay and compete for jobs against Americans. “I think those are majority positions in this country,” he said.

“I actually came here to make a difference, I didn’t come here just to sign on to a bunch of letters and give speeches,” he said. “I came here to try to propose ideas and when I have the opportunity, to move those ideas forward.”

In April, Rubio reshuffled his staff in preparation for a presidential run in 2016, and promoted his chief of staff — Cesar Conda — to run his fundraising organization. Many major GOP donors are strong advocates for increased immigration of high-skilled and low-skilled workers.

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