In June, after the Gang of Eight legislation was passed out of committee, Rubio went so far as to suggest that he would vote against the bill he helped write unless its border-security provisions were strengthened and changes made to roll back the secretary of Homeland Security’s considerable authority to decide how to implement the law. He urged Republican opponents to get involved in the amendment process.
Enter John Cornyn (R., Texas), the minority whip, who offered an amendment that would have established, in place of the existing “trigger,” a hard “trigger” of security benchmarks that would have to be met before illegal immigrants could obtain legal status. As written, the bill would have merely required that the Homeland Security secretary submit a plan to secure the border before legal status was granted.
The Cornyn amendment was another line in the sand for Democrats, which is why Rubio’s Gang of Eight colleagues were so annoyed
when he threw his support behind it. As a knowledgeable source told
the Washington Post
, “The [Gang of Eight] Senators told Rubio that the Cornyn amendment is going nowhere, and the sooner that is clear to everyone, the more quickly we can move to other, more acceptable proposals.”
Rubio ultimately voted for the Cornyn amendment, which was defeated on the Senate floor — but that fact did not alter his support for the final version of the legislation. The Gang of Eight bill passed on June 27 with the backing of 14 Republicans and every single Democrat. On the eve of the vote, Rubio made a direct appeal to his conservative critics. “I realize that in the end, many of my fellow conservatives will still not be able to support this reform,” he said on the Senate floor. “But I hope you will understand that I honestly believe it is the right thing for our country.”
Since the bill’s passage, Rubio has been relatively silent on the issue of immigration reform. In August, he defended his involvement with the Gang of Eight and warned that if Congress failed to act on immigration reform, President Obama could act unilaterally to legalize the majority of illegal immigrants living in the country. Rubio’s decision to join the Gang of Eight was simply an effort to “start the conversation to at least address some of these issues,” he said during an interview with a Florida radio station. “It only gets worse as time goes on.”
More recently, Rubio has continued to criticize Obama, saying the president’s actions have “undermined” the cause of immigration reform and that conservative skeptics have “valid” reasons not to trust the administration. Last week, nearly four months to the day after casting his vote for the Gang of Eight bill, Rubio reiterated his belief that “a series of sequential, individual bills is the best way, the ideal way to reform our immigration system.” Lawmakers should focus their energy on the aspects of immigration reform that they agree on, he argued.
Of course, many conservative opponents of the Gang of Eight have been saying that all along.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.