One of the big questions facing Marco Rubio’s presidential bid is what role immigration policy will play in his candidacy. In 2013, Rubio went out on a political limb and worked to pass a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill that died a slow and undignified death at the hands of House Republicans, and he’s since backed off his support for comprehensive reform in favor of the “border security first” posturing that the conservative base wants to hear. Now that he’s officially a candidate, he’s going to have to figure out how to frame his record on the issue.
Rubio gave a preview of his thinking in an interview with NPR yesterday. Basically, he’s going to lie and obfuscate and contradict himself in order to present the issue in the best possible light.
As Rubio explained it, the 2013 comprehensive bill was a failure because there just wasn’t enough trust in “the federal government” (read: President Obama) to enforce the border security aspects of the legislation. Here’s what he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep:
RUBIO: The only point I've made is that I think the lessons of the last couple of years, for me, is that we're not going to be able to deal with it in one big piece of legislation. I still think we need to do immigration reform. I just don't think you can do it in a comprehensive, massive piece of legislation, given the lack of trust that there is today in the federal government.
This is nonsense and Rubio knows it. The barrier to immigration reform is, was, and will continue to be the conservatives in the House who do not want immigration reform. Lack of trust in Obama was the excuse conservatives deployed to try and shift blame for their obstruction onto the president. Prior to the comprehensive bill’s passage, Rubio did his best to convince conservatives that while their mistrust of government was understandable, their misgivings about the security measures in his bill were unwarranted and based on myth. Here’s a speech he gave on the Senate floor telling conservatives that basically everything they’d heard about the bill was wrong, and that the legislation would force the administration’s hand on border security.
His speech didn’t have the intended effect and conservatives killed his legislation. Now Rubio is arguing that those conservatives were right and the faithlessness he tried to dispel was merited, and it's actually Obama who shoulders the blame. Here he is again, on NPR:
RUBIO: So if I'm telling you that the key to moving forward is the enforcement of immigration law, then that says the notion that future illegal immigration will be brought under control, and you have a president that's ordering agencies not to enforce immigration law, our ability to convince people, no matter what we pass, that future illegal immigration will be brought under control, as long as Barack Obama's president, is nil.
So at this point you’re probably thinking that Rubio considers the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill a failure and a mistake. After all, he misjudged the president, he didn’t listen to conservatives, and he’s since disavowed himself from the legislation. But you’d be wrong – in the same NPR interview, Rubio argued that the passage of the bill shows he can get stuff done on immigration policy (even though he didn’t get it done and now considers it a doomed error).
RUBIO: Well, I don't know about the others, but I've done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did. I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that's more than she's ever done. She's given speeches on it, but she's never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it.
But, of course, just because Rubio is proud of having passed the bill doesn’t mean that he also can’t criticize it as bad policy:
RUBIO: It didn't work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn't think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.
Once again, this is a lie. Yes, Rubio “warned” that the legislation wasn’t tough enough on border security – but the bill was amended to bolster security and Rubio’s concerns were completely satisfied. In the same speech embedded above, Rubio said the bill “mandates the most ambitious border and interior security measures in our nation’s history.” That’s why he voted to pass it.
And all this contradictory nonsense is contained in just one interview. For Rubio, the immigration bill was a triumph and a failure, a mistake and the right policy. He’s proud he passed it and glad it failed. And at the end of the day, whichever story you choose to believe, it’s all Obama’s fault.