The Corner

Politics & Policy

Rubio Must Reject Schumer, and All His Works, and All His Empty Promises

In response to Watching Women

Ramesh, I think you’re right that Rubio’s role as Chuck Schumer’s front man in pushing the Gang of Eight amnesty/immigration-surge bill doesn’t have to doom him in the primaries. But getting past that fiasco is going to take more work on his part than you suggest.

Of the three reasons you note why Rubio can survive his fling with Schumer, the first and third are clearly correct: not all opponents of the Gang of Eight bill will see it as a deal-breaker when considering whom to back for the nomination, and Rubio avoided insulting opponents of the bill as heartless (though he lied about what was actually in the bill, leaving a bad taste in many mouths).

But I don’t think your second point is persuasive:

Rubio explains his record in a way that might mollify many of the soft opponents of the bill. He says that while he was making a good-faith effort, he underestimated the public’s distrust of Washington’s ability to solve the problem in one giant bill and now understands that trust in enforcement has to be earned well before any path to legalization or citizenship.

“Might mollify” and “soft opponents” suggest how weak his explanations so far have been. Unless I missed something, Rubio hasn’t renounced any of the goals of the Gang of Eight bill; he’s merely said it wasn’t the right time. A lot of conservatives want to forgive him his trespasses, but he needs to offer a genuine, substantive mea culpa.

He could achieve this with three steps: 1) Explicitly, without weaselly politician-talk, pledge that no legalization will be even debated until certain enforcement benchmarks have been met, like fully operational E-Verify and visa-tracking systems, plus two independent, outside estimates showing three consecutive years of decline in the illegal population. 2) Acknowledge that he agrees with Jeff Sessions that current immigration levels are too high, which he can square with his call for more merit-based selection criteria by cutting the chain-migration and lottery categories by 250,000, but increasing skilled immigration by 50,000. And 3) say that he still thinks an expanded temporary worker program is a good idea, but any program would have to be based on principles like those outlined by Ed Meese during the Bush amnesty fight, to prevent the program from leading to permanent settlement or illegal immigration.

None of these is fully unsatisfactory from my perspective, but would represent a real concession to Republican voters while not alienating the donors too much.

Rubio’s is already starting to take fire on his immigration fiasco from the other presidential hopefuls, and it’s only going to get worse. His explanations so far aren’t likely to be enough to protect him.

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