It’s getting hard to read which way Marco Rubio is blowing on immigration reform lately.
The junior senator from Florida — crowned by the Republican Party and the media as the lead dog on bipartisan immigration reform legislation grinding its way through the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” — has been, to say the least, a sometimes friend, sometimes foe of the idea of normalizing the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
In 2010, he was against allowing Arizona police to demand the papers of anyone who looked “illegal” to them, before he was for it.
He was also against the DREAM Act, before floating his own version of quasi-legalization for people brought to the country as children.
Now, he ostensibly is taking the lead in the Gang of Eight negotiations, though if you ask John McCain and Lindsey Graham, or on odd days, Chuck Schumer, he’s more the frosting on the bill than the cake.
And that’s part of the problem.
Rubio, by dint of his being Hispanic, is expected to be all things to all people. He must constantly proffer his brown face to the world, thereby softening the image of the hardline GOP and supposedly luring fellow Latinos into the tent (even though he’s Cuban and most immigrants trace their roots to Central or South America.)
He has to walk the line as the tea party’s man in the Senate, holding back the tide of amnesty, while allowing “teas” to claim it’s not because they don’t like Hispanics because, well, Rubio!
And he has to reject anything that smells of compromise with the Obama White House, lest its haters reject any resulting legislation, Obamacare-style. It’s why Rubio was quick to declare a floated proposal from the Obama camp “dead on arrival” in the Senate, even though much of what was in it mirrored the bill he and the gang are supposedly crafting.
And so, Rubio is, rather cynically, positioning himself between two doors.
Walk through door No. 1, and he takes credit for a bipartisan bill that puts Republicans back in the game with Hispanic voters and robs Democrats of a cudgel with which to beat GOP candidates in 2014 and, especially, 2016.
Walk through door No. 2, and he earns a right-wing merit badge for killing legislation that the extremist National Rifle Association and its Senate operatives, like Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Texas verbal bomb thrower Ted Cruz, already staunchly oppose, while giving Republicans the all-important cover of his minority and “son of immigrants” status.
To keep one foot firmly planted in that second-door jamb, Rubio is backing the calls by legalization opponents for a full-throated floor debate, with the opportunity for Republican senators to offer amendments, most of which, like Sessions’ March proposal to deny those who take advantage of the path to citizenship any opportunity to receive healthcare benefits like Medicare, Medicaid or the federal benefits under the Affordable Care Act, are really designed to kill the bill.
The delays in moving the process forward, which Rubio is supporting, come even as business leaders and organized labor last week reached unprecedented agreement on so-called “guest workers,” who under the announced compromise would no longer be shackled to a single employer and who would have a federal guarantee of fair wages, which would prevent employers from dragooning tens of thousands of what amount to indentured servants at rates that would repel (and discourage the employment of) American workers.
But Rubio, who has no other legislative area on which to build his legacy at this point, wants to go slow. And he’s doing so in a way that is almost certain to bury any legislation in poison pills.
Throw in the Beltway obsession with whether the would-be Republican savior will seek the White House, and you have all the ingredients of a political calculation based less on the intended results for millions of Americans, and more about the intended results for Marco Rubio.