Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blitzed all five Sunday shows in his most public pitch yet for the emerging immigration reform bill, arguing that it would control the border and rejecting conservative criticisms that it provided “amnesty” for illegal immigrants in the country.
"This is not 'amnesty.' 'Amnesty' is the forgiveness of something. 'Amnesty' is anything that says 'do it illegally, it'll be cheaper and easier,'" Rubio, a member of the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ senators set to unveil their immigration bill on Tuesday, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
But the contentious politics also place the potential 2016 presidential candidate in a difficult spot, as many conservatives strongly oppose offering immigrants who came here illegally a chance to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. The charge is the most potent attack conservatives have lobbed at the bill.
Rubio defended the bill on Sunday, saying it would allow illegal immigrants to stay only after meeting a series of requirements, including having a job and paying fines, and would require them to wait years before applying for citizenship.
Rubio also emphasized that illegal immigrants allowed to stay in the U.S. would get that status only provisionally and wouldn't have access to any government programs, including food stamps, ObamaCare and Medicare.
The Florida senator argued the time was ripe for addressing immigration reform.
"This is an issue that needs to be solved," he said.
Rubio argued that the current system is "de facto amnesty" and that the bipartisan plan would greatly improve control of the border with Mexico.
He said the creation of an "entry-exit" monitoring system to keep immigrants from overstaying their visas, and an "E-Verify" system to make sure companies aren't illegally hiring unauthorized immigrants would be a central component of the comprehensive bill.
But some conservatives are marshaling their forces in opposition to the legislation and Rubio has sought to allay their concerns about the bill.
Rubio pushed back against a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation that immigration reform would be costly to the government. A similar report helped derail immigration reform six years ago by undercutting conservative support for the measure.
"Conservatives love dynamic scoring," he said, arguing the bill's effects should be taken on the whole and not just looked at from what it would cost the government. "This will be a net positive for our country now and for the future."
Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a close Rubio ally who helped get him elected in 2010, is now head of the organization — and has long been a staunch opponent of giving illegal immigrants any legal status.
Rubio emphasized on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the bill was "a starting point.”
“It's not a take-it-or-leave-it offer," he said, acknowledging the work ahead to win support.
Speaking CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rubio said the bipartisan group of senators behind the bill wouldn’t stop amendments to the legislation.
“We haven't agreed to band together to keep anyone from amending it. There are 92 other senators who have their own ideas about immigration reform, who, quite frankly, I think, can help make this bill better,” Rubio said.
The Gang of Eight first unveiled their framework in January and have been negotiating details of the plan since then.
A House group is working on its own bipartisan immigration overhaul, and leaders from both parties have said they hope to move on legislation soon. President Obama has made immigration reform a top priority for his second term.
But House GOP concerns over citizenship and conservative calls for the border to be secured first remain key obstacles.
Rubio has taken a deliberative approach to talks on the bill, and has urged Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to move slowly, allowing time for senators to build public support for their proposals.
Rubio said on multiple shows Sunday that he wasn't backing the bill to boost his political prospects or to help the GOP improve its standing with minority voters, but rather because the nation’s immigration policy was broken.
"There are political ramifications to everything we do in Washington, but it's not the reason to do it and it's certainly not the reason I'm involved in this," he said on “Meet the Press.”
"This is not about improving anyone's poll numbers. This is very simple — I'm a senator. I get paid not to just give speeches, I get paid to solve problems. This is a serious problem here in Florida, this is a serious problem in America," he added.
Rubio did say the next Republican presidential nominee would need to address immigration, even if his or her views on the issue didn't match what Rubio has proposed.
"The nominee of our party needs to be someone that has answers to the problems our country faces, and immigration is a serious problem," he said.
On CNN, Rubio said that he hadn’t considered if the success of the immigration reform bill could affect his own chances in 2016.
“I really haven't. I have a job. My belief has always been that 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 reelection, run for something else or give someone else a chance at public service. And that's how I view this issue,” Rubio said.
This story was first posted at 9:38 a.m. and has been updated.