Sen. Marco Rubio was blunt Thursday: A single comprehensive immigration-reform bill won’t pass Congress — and a pathway to citizenship for those illegally in this country is no guarantee, either.
Rubio indicated he’s prepared to vote for a series of immigration bills from the U.S. House even if none has a citizenship pathway.
“Just because it doesn’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something,” Rubio said. “Ultimately, you don’t solve the immigration problem unless you address the people who are here illegally.”
The Florida Republican said a major hurdle is GOP mistrust of President Obama, whose administration has selectively enforced some immigration laws and “unilaterally” delayed aspects of Obamacare.
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As a result, he said, House Republicans worry that passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill would give Obama the chance to legalize the status of up to 11 million undocumented immigrants while slow-walking and delaying border-security efforts dear to conservatives.
“We have tried the one-big-bill approach. I do not believe that it is feasible given the current political climate and the distrust of government,” Rubio said.
But if Congress passes other immigration-reform efforts pass, Rubio said, it would “create momentum and build confidence” that would make it easier to pass, for instance, a pathway to citizenship.
A citizenship path has proved to be a major fault-line among conservatives who control the House, where leaders say they’ll try to tackle immigration reform this year.
Republicans have demanded that the borders be made far more secure before immigrants unlawfully in this country get a shot at citizenship.
Five immigration-reform bills passed at least one House committee last year. None contained a citizenship path. Instead, the bills targeted various aspects of the immigration system, from agriculture to border security to worker verification.
The House refused to take up a version of the Democratic-controlled Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive bill, passed in the spring with Rubio’s help.
Immigration reform advocates like Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said he expects House leadership to propose some type of legislation to legalize the status of the undocumented.
As for Rubio’s comments, Sharry said he’s “pleasantly surprised” that the Florida Republican is still backing a citizenship pathway. A possible 2016 GOP White House hopeful, Rubio was pilloried by tea party conservatives for supporting what they said was “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
“I think Rubio is trying to sink back into the pack,” Sharry said, pointing out that Rubio initially supporting piecemeal immigration-reform legislation before signing on to the Senate’s comprehensive bill.
“I had a decision to make: I could either give speeches about immigration reform or I could try to actually influence what it is the Senate passed,” Rubio said Thursday.
Rubio indicated he would have continued to advocate for the Senate’s legislation. But it’s a nonstarter in the House.
“Why would we continue to push forward with an approach that has zero chance of passing?” he asked one reporter. “Unless someone really believes that we’re just going to go in and force the House by just sheer pressure of overwhelming press conferences, we’re just going to twist their arms.”
Rubio also took a measure of umbrage with the criticisms in the news media.
“I’m actually perplexed,” he said. “I read these editorials and these write-ups that criticize political leaders for not taking on big issues. And then they take on big issues and they all focus on, ‘Oh, what a mistake. Look at the political price he’s paying.’ I don’t get it. I thought that’s what you wanted us to do. I thought that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
But after the immigration bill passed the Senate last year, Rubio said little about the issue as it stalled in the House.
Rubio began focusing on more-orthodox conservative issues that he spoke about on the campaign trail in 2010: Obamacare, debt, taxes and the federal budget.
This week, Rubio issued a call to apply conservative principles to fight poverty, an issue he spoke about Thursday.
Rubio also mentioned he’d support legislation to lower flood-insurance rates, expressed general disapproval with a proposed Florida medical-marijuana initiative that voters could decide and criticized a whistleblower who leaked national security documents.
“Edward Snowden’s a traitor,” Rubio said.
Still, the majority of Rubio’s time with the press revolved around immigration reform and his call to not have a take-it-or-leave-it approach.
“That approach has now been tried for almost a decade,” Rubio said, “and it has led to nothing.”