What Really Happened When Marco Rubio Accused Ted Cruz Of Lying?

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John M. Ellis Chairman, California Association of Scholars
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Something extraordinary happened at the Republican debate on February 13, but though it led to a heated exchange between Senators Rubio and Cruz that attracted more press coverage than anything else, nobody seemed to grasp what had really happened.

It began when Cruz said: “Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office.” Rubio objected vehemently that Cruz was lying. But the transcript of the Univision program is clear: Rubio did indeed say what Cruz quotes him as saying. Was Cruz perhaps quoting Rubio out of context, making the statement seem to imply more than it really did?

Quite the reverse. Had Cruz cited the fuller context, Rubio would have looked much worse. He had actually told Univision that Obama’s DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] is important. He added “At some point it’s going to have to end,” but then spelled out when and why: “it’s going to end because immigration reform is going to pass.” In other words, Obama’s illegal executive action would stay in place into an indefinite future time when legislation enacts a legal version of it anyway.

Far from lying about what Rubio had said, Cruz had greatly understated the point. Why then did Rubio respond as he did? Since what Cruz said was accurate, it would have been natural for Rubio to explain why he had said it, just as he had done for Univision. Instead, he launched into a series of accusations about Cruz’s lies, though it was Rubio who was lying.

The answer surely lies in the fact that only one week earlier, Phyllis Schlafly’s organization, The Eagle Forum, had issued a devastating report on Rubio’s consistent record of deception concerning illegal immigration, stretching from his days in the Florida legislature right up to the present. It is an astonishing document, well researched and fully documented, and appears to leave no doubt that since running for the U.S. Senate Rubio has always loudly claimed to be moderate and reasonable on illegal immigration (border security and enforcement of employment laws must come first before anything else can happen, no access for illegals to welfare or Obamacare, no immediate legalization, no chain migration, no amnesty, etc.) while the actions he took always did the exact opposite. The weight of the evidence Schlafly cites is impressive.

But what is most relevant to where we are now is the light the report sheds on the way Rubio currently presents himself on this issue, post gang-of-eight. As if sadder and wiser after his mistake in supporting the gang’s amnesty bill, Rubio now says that he has learned that before anything else can happen, there must be a fence, border enforcement, employment law enforcement, and so on. But what the Schlafly report demonstrates is that this is exactly the same PR that Rubio used to reassure conservatives and thereby get 68 Senate votes for the gang’s bill: he always understood that he could only sell it by persuading skeptics that border security, etc., must come first, before anything else (legalization) could happen — though the bill said exactly the opposite. And this fatally undermines his sincerity when he now tries to persuade us that this is his new position, one gained only by the bitter experience of seeing the gang’s bill fail.

The Schlafly report carefully chronicles the way in which Rubio deceived one interviewer after another about the content of the gang’s bill: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin and others. Over and over again, the interviewers asked Rubio for reassurance on the many questions that would be deal breakers for conservatives: whether illegals would get access to welfare, or to cash payments from the IRS (the negative income tax), or to Obamacare; whether it allowed chain migration; whether administrative discretion could override the bill’s provisions; and most importantly of course whether legalization would happen only after clear proof that the border was secure and employment laws were being enforced.

Every time, Rubio reassured them that the bill was firm on all the points that conservatives were anxious about. But it wasn’t — he was lying about every one of these points. However, when speaking to a Spanish audience (on Univision) Rubio told the truth: legalization and everything that automatically came with it would come first — the minute the bill was signed, in fact — and it was not conditional on anything. Schlafly summarizes: “Rubio traded shamelessly on the affection and trust conservatives had placed in him. His deceptions about his immigration bill rivaled and exceeded Obama’s claims about disastrous Obamacare.”

Inevitably, people began to read the bill and find out that what Rubio was saying was completely false. At first Rubio accused them of lying about his bill, but as more and more voices were raised he was forced to change his tack: now he feigned surprise at what was in the bill that he had written, and agreed that it needed fixing. But his presentation to Univision proved that he always knew perfectly well what was in the bill. Rubio now promised to fix the bill to bring it into line with the assurances he had been making about its content, and also promised not to vote for it unless it had been fixed. He broke both promises. Schlafly documents how Rubio first obstructed attempts to fix the bill, then voted for it.

After reading the Schlafly report we in a better position to understand what made Rubio fly off the handle and accuse Cruz of serial lying when what he was saying was unquestionably factual. When Cruz touched on what Rubio has been saying to Univision — one of Schlafly’s themes — he saw immediately how dangerous this could be to his credibility and so decided to pre-empt the credibility issue by accusing Cruz of lying before his own could be exposed.

Marco Rubio on illegal immigration is a sorry record of perfidy and betrayal. Phyllis Schlafly suggests that such habitual lying should rule him out of consideration for the presidency. Until Rubio comes up with a convincing rebuttal of her report, that conclusion will be difficult to argue with.

John M. Ellis is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Chairman of the California Association of Scholars