Rubio Takes Lead in Selling Immigration Reform

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  April 15, 2013 at 9:11 AM EDT

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Sen. Marco Rubio may be a member of the Gang of Eight, but on Sunday he was flying solo.

By participating in a round of seven back-to-back television interviews, the Florida Republican in one morning endorsed the comprehensive immigration reform proposal set to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate and became the leading conservative voice for the plan.

On Sunday he addressed many of the criticisms he will most certainly face among fellow Republicans, including that the legislation amounts to “amnesty” for the estimated 11 million people thought to be living in the country illegally.

Rubio refuted such claims, contending the plan in fact involves a tougher path to citizenship than under current law.

“The only thing you get is a chance,” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Look, I’m not happy about the fact that we have millions of people here illegally, and quite frankly, those decisions that led to that happening were made when I was in ninth grade. But that’s what we have,” he added. “This is not a theory, it is the reality, and what we have today is we don’t do anything about it. It’s de facto amnesty.”

“They don’t get anything. What they get is the opportunity to apply for it,” Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They still have to qualify for it. Meaning, they have to pass the background checks.”

He added: “They have to be able to pay a registration fee. They have to pay a fine and then they have to renew it. This is not forever. This is a renewable thing. And then they don’t qualify for any federal benefits. This is an important point. No federal benefits, no food stamps, no welfare, no ObamaCare. They have to prove they’re gainfully employed. They have to be able to support themselves, so they’ll never become a public charge.”

Host Chris Wallace pressed Rubio to explain how he squared the proposal with comments he made in 2009, when he said he would “vote against anything that grants amnesty because I think it destroys your ability to enforce the existing law and I think it’s unfair to the people who are standing in line and waiting to come in legally.”

“I still agree with it,” Rubio responded. “This is not amnesty. Amnesty is the forgiveness of something.”

Rubio also stressed that opportunity for people to apply for green cards after 10 years would be dependent upon certain border security benchmarks. “That means securing the border, universal E-verify, and the universal entry/exit tracking system,” Rubio said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If those three things are not in place, that green card process won’t begin, even if the 10 years has elapsed.”

For their part, Democratic lawmakers were full of praise for Rubio’s work on the issue. Fellow Gang of Eight member Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called him a “tremendous asset.”

But some Republicans said they remained skeptical of the group’s effort, including Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

“I’m not convinced,” Sessions told ABC News. “I know Sen. Rubio’s heart is exactly right. And I really respect the work of the Gang of Eight. But they have produced legislation, it appears…that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that’s here effectively today and then there’s a promise of enforcement in the future.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Fox News he was “encouraged” by what the group had produced but added that he “would have difficulty supporting it” before securing the border.

Rubio noted the members of his coalition would be receptive to input from their colleagues as the legislative process moves forward.

“I think that I am looking to the other 92 senators weighing in, because I think they’re going to make it better,” he said on ABC. “There are eight of us that have worked on this, and we’ve worked very hard, but there are 92 other people with their own ideas, and I have tried to incorporate as many of their ideas as possible,” Rubio added.

On each show, Rubio, who is considered a rising star in his party with wide national appeal, dodged questions about his 2016 ambitions.

“I don’t know anything about these polls,” Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when presented with figures showing how he ranks among other possible contenders.

CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Rubio if he thought his work on immigration reform “would help or hurt” if he decided to run for president in 2016.

“You know, I haven’t even thought about it in that way,” Rubio responded.

“Seriously, senator?” Crowley interjected.

“I haven’t. I really haven’t,” Rubio replied. “I have a job. My belief has been if I do my job and I do my job well, I’ll have options and opportunities in the future to do things whether it’s run for re-election, run for something else or give someone else a chance at public service. And that’s how I view this issue.”

He also insisted he had given no thought to how supporting a comprehensive immigration plan would affect his chances in a Republican primary.

As the Gang of Eigth prepares to release its plan Tuesday, the conversation, for now, will focus on politics in Washington, not at the national level. Chris Cillizza has five senators to watch in the lead-up to the immigration debate.

The influence industry is gearing up for the fight.

The Associated Press’ Steve Peoples reports that “an expanding network of Republican fundraisers” is seeking a path to legalization. The donors are “funneling donations to a new crop of outside groups designed to protect like-minded congressional Republicans who fear a backlash by GOP’s core supporters.”

Peoples writes:

In most cases, the donors have ties to Wall Street and businesses that want more high- and low-skilled immigrants in the nation’s legal labor pool. Backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, these business-minded Republican fundraisers say they’re getting a relatively receptive audience in the face of an undeniable new political reality. Record Hispanic turnout helped President Barack Obama defeat Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last fall. And projected population growth ensures that immigrants’ political clout will grow stronger.

Politico’s Anna Palmer ticks off all the companies and trade groups “preparing to unleash their lobbying forces broadly on Capitol Hill in hopes of securing changes to the package.” She writes that those influencers “could spell trouble for the bill since any significant change to even a single element could scuttle the delicately reached bargain, leaving final passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in serious jeopardy.”

The pressure campaigns that have been going on behind the scenes during negotiations will go public with a growing number of companies and industries over specific provisions in the Senate legislation.

Case in point: Silicon Valley.

For the past several years, tech companies have pushed lawmakers to overhaul the H-1B visa program, arguing that there aren’t enough high-skilled American workers to fill positions and that they don’t even have enough visas to bring in foreign workers.

Today, H-1B visas are capped at 65,000 annually, with 20,000 more for those with advanced degrees. Earlier this month, the Homeland Security Department announced it received more visa requests than available for the 2014 fiscal year after just a week of accepting applications.

Several tech lobbyists said they think the Senate Gang of Eight’s plan won’t increase the number of H-1B visas by nearly enough. Final details of the plan haven’t been made public, yet.

The Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century released a report called “Barriers to Reform: The anti-immigrant and extremist money blocking progress in the Senate.”

It includes unflattering quotes from Republican senators, including some members of the Gang of Eight, along with donations from groups that American Bridge 21st Century considers “extremist anti-immigrant.”

The divergent groups getting involved are an illustration of the complexities of the issue, and activists championing a pathway to citizenship are cautiously saying they believe there’s more of a chance of something becoming law than ever before.

But it’s early, and the first draft of the legislation — sure to take many forms before all is said and done — won’t be seen until Tuesday. Which means the many stakeholders in immigration reform are just getting started.


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The pieces come as the Senate prepares to return to debate late Monday. Over the weekend, President Barack Obama invited Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Ben was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, to deliver the weekly address. Watch her appeal here or below:

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  • The White House also is out with an online tool to check how your tax dollars are spent.

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Watch here or below:

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Katelyn Polantz and desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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