Rubio suddenly in no rush on immigration

Proponents of immigration reform are exhilarated: A deal is close at hand after years of disagreement, with organized labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce walking away from the negotiating table late Friday mutually pleased with a guest-worker compromise.

Yet on Saturday, Rubio sent Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy a letter urging more hearings and warning against a "rush to legislate." 

Then Sunday morning — Easter morning no less — Rubio sent out an unsubtle statement to the press titled "No final agreement on immigration legislation yet" in which he voiced his concern that "this process cannot be rushed or done in secret."

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That was a surprise to his fellow Gang of Eight members from both parties in the Senate, who have met with Rubio and other immigration reform advocates continuously in recent months. Although Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Rubio's announcement Sunday was technically correct — that Rubio was "correctly pointing out that the language hasn't been fully drafted" — he still described the group's work as nearly complete, saying, "We have substantive agreement on all the major pieces now between the eight of us."

Everyone knows Rubio is in a political corner, but if he disagrees with something the Gang of Eight has decided on, he clearly didn't tell them. Rubio has 2016 presidential hopes and he once was a Tea Party hero and cannot afford to move too close to the center if he hopes to survive a GOP primary, the angling for which has already begun. 

But he was the one who started the immigration push, and at this point the momentum is likely to build no matter how much he tries to slow it. 

As Rubio struggles to buy more time, President Obama and the backers of reform, who not only have seen a Congress fail to legislate at all in recent years but also know the midterm campaigns begin months from now, want to move ahead immediately. Rubio will have to decide just how much he truly wants reform.

CAN CONGRESS PASS IMMIGRATION REFORM WITHOUT RUBIO? AskAB returns Tuesday April 2. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.