It was only a matter of time before Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio started bickering over immigration. This fight has been brewing ever since the summer of 2013, when Rubio led the Republican effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate, and Cruz led the Republican effort to sabotage that same bill. The two have been circling around the issue for months as Cruz consolidated support among conservatives, Rubio tacked right to fend off attackers, and Donald Trump frothed up the GOP base into an anti-immigrant lather with his raw nativism and promises to deport every single undocumented immigrant in the country. Now that they’ve had a few debates and hefted themselves into the high single digits in national polls, it’s time for hash to be settled, and neither Cruz nor Rubio is being honest as they take the fight to each other.
Let’s start with Cruz, since he threw the first punch. He appeared yesterday on Laura Ingraham’s radio program, who asked him about Rubio’s rightward shift on immigration since the 2013 passage of the Gang of Eight comprehensive reform bill in the Senate. Cruz said that the Gang of Eight members, including Rubio, “agreed to vote against every amendment that would strengthen the bill from an enforcement perspective.” It was as clear a message as you could hope for – Cruz wanted tougher border security, and Rubio opposed it while trying to “jam this amnesty down the American people’s throat.”
That’s not true. Rubio actually warned that the bill needed tougher border security language to stand a chance of passing the House, and he supported an amendment by Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven that would have doubled the number of border agents, doubled the amount of border fencing in the legislation, beefed up funding for high-tech border security measures, put in place an E-verify system for employers, and put an entry/exit tracking system in place. The way Cruz and his fellow immigration hard-liners wriggle out of this is by claiming that Corker-Hoeven was not “real” border security when compared to the even harsher amendments offered by Cruz. (For what it’s worth, the Congressional Budget Office analysis of Corker-Hoeven determined that “the reduction [of undocumented entries] under the amendment would be greater than under the committee-approved version,” but couldn’t precisely say by how much.)
So Cruz is lying – but so is Rubio! Ever since he abandoned comprehensive immigration reform when it became clear that House Republicans were going to kill his signature legislation, Rubio has been trying to rationalize and justify his critical role in getting it passed. He’s blamed President Obama for the bill’s failure, he’s tried casting himself as a prescient critic of his own bill – whatever it takes to get conservatives to forgive him. That brings us to yesterday and Rubio’s latest explanation for his immigration heresy, per the Washington Post:
“I was involved in an effort in 2013 to try to fix our immigration issue,” Rubio said, in response to a friendly question about how immigration policies affected agriculture. “There was a powerful lesson from 2013. The American people do not trust the federal government to enforce our immigration policies. That exists even if you pass a law that says we’re going to build more walls, we’re going to have e-verify, we’re going to have an entry/exit tracking system. That was a shocking realization.”
Rubio was shocked! It was a wake-up call! This senator – this very conservative senator who came to power on the back of a movement that oozes government mistrust from every pore – was flabbergasted to learn that conservatives don’t trust the government. My god.
This is straight nonsense. Let’s go back to Corker-Hoeven and its stepped-up border security measures. As noted, the amendment was sufficient to satisfy Rubio’s concerns about the bill, and he took to the Senate floor in June 2013 to push for the bill’s passage. In doing so he explicitly acknowledged that some conservatives won’t trust the government to implement the bill no matter what it says.
“In the end, it’s not just immigration reform itself that worries them, it’s the government that has failed them so many times before,” Rubio said at the time. “They simply believe that no matter what law we pass, we cannot trust the federal government to ever actually enforce it.” Rubio acknowledged that mistrust, but pushed for the bill anyway because, he argued, it was the best way to enact conservative immigration reform principles. Now he’s claiming to have been blindsided by the very same mistrust that he actively worked to overcome.
This is just dishonest excuse-making that’s meant to obscure Rubio’s history on immigration. The broader takeaway from all this slipperiness and lying is that Rubio and Cruz are, as Greg Sargent notes, in a pitched competition to convince conservative voters of how much they hate “amnesty.” Cruz is trying to set himself apart as the anti-amnesty purist, and Rubio is inching in that direction while simultaneously trying to damage Cruz’s reputation by pointing out instances in which Cruz didn’t want to deport everyone. It’s fun to recall, as we watch this cynical and mendacious game play out, that not too long ago the GOP was forecasting electoral doom if they kept alienating Hispanic voters.