By Alexander Bolton - 05/08/13 09:00 AM EDT
Sen. Marco Rubio says he is not getting cold feet on immigration reform.
The Florida Republican on Tuesday sought to dismiss speculation that he is having second thoughts on the Gang of Eight’s bill that he helped write. Prominent conservatives, including former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), have lambasted the measure in recent days.
“I do think we can pass a law, we can turn a bill into a law. I got involved in this because I want to pass a law,” he said Tuesday. “If you look over my efforts over the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty forceful in trying to get something done.”
But Rubio has also made comments in recent days that some Senate insiders interpreted as an effort to distance himself from the controversial bill.
“He probably gets cold feet 20 times a day,” a senior Democratic aide said of Rubio.
“It’s a roller coaster and reflects the incoming [fire] he’s taking from his base when he goes home for a recess, but when he comes back to Washington he remembers he has partners,” said the aide. “I don’t think he’s going to take a walk.”
A source close to the Gang of Eight said Rubio is probably trying to distance himself somewhat from the bill to give House Republicans more leverage in negotiations with Senate Democrats. Republicans want to increase caps on work visas, especially for low-skilled workers, and staunchly oppose a proposal backed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), also a member of the Gang of Eight, to recognize same-sex and heterosexual couples equally.
Conservatives have begun to push back against Rubio, who has served as the lead liaison to conservative talk-show hosts and other opinion leaders in selling the Gang of Eight’s plan.
National Review, an influential conservative magazine, featured a photo of Rubio standing between Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), two Gang of Eight colleagues, superimposed with bold, yellow letters trumpeting “Rubio’s Folly” on the cover of its May 20 edition.
Rubio told conservative radio host Mike Gallagher last week that the Senate gang’s immigration bill “probably can’t pass the House.”
The possible 2016 White House candidate wrote an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal Friday claiming that the Senate bill has “shortcomings and unintended consequences that need to be addressed.”
On Tuesday, Rubio said he was merely providing an honest assessment of the bill’s prospects in the House, and reasserted his strong support.
“I’ve always said whatever we come up with as part of the Group of Eight will be a starting point. It’s not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition,” he said. “It’s just an observation. I don’t believe the House will pass the bill as currently structured because they don’t think that the enforcement mechanisms are strong enough. Quite frankly I believe it will struggle to pass in the Senate because [conservatives] want it to be stronger.”
Rubio said conservatives have told him they are prepared to support immigration reform but want assurances “that we don’t have another wave of illegal immigration in the future,” which he called “a very reasonable position.”
The 41-year-old senator has presented a less bullish outlook than other members of the Senate Gang of Eight, which also includes Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
McCain has emphasized support or neutrality among House Republicans toward the Senate bill, which the Judiciary Committee will start to mark up on Thursday.
“[House Budget Committee Chairman] Paul Ryan [(R-Wis.)] came out just a few days ago with strong support. The Speaker ... he has not criticized the bill, let’s put it that way,” McCain said last week in a radio interview with Univision. “And so I see a lot of Republicans that realize this present situation is de facto amnesty and that we need to fix it.”
McCain on Tuesday said the Senate bill could pass the House.
“One, it can pass the House. Two, I think Senator Rubio is talking about some of the concerns that people have and that’s just what it is,” said McCain.
Like Rubio, the Arizona senator said he is open to changing the bill, predicting it would likely be amended to address security vulnerabilities exposed by last month’s Boston Marathon bombing.
McCain downplayed the impact of the National Review piece. He has an old edition dating to when the Senate debated immigration reform more than six years ago featuring him and then-Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) under the headline, “Let’s not call it amnesty.”
Durbin said he agrees with Rubio that the bill will likely have to be modified.
“Clearly a different bill will be considered and pass in the House. That’s a given. I would agree with Marco completely on that. Unless told otherwise, I think he’s still committed to the basic agreement we’re bringing to the Senate [Judiciary] Committee,” he said.
Rubio squared off against DeMint Tuesday, calling the Heritage study “flawed.”
“Their argument is based on a single premise, which I think is flawed,” Rubio said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “That is, these people are disproportionately poor because they have no education, and they will be poor for the rest of their lives in the U.S.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Rubio met with more than 17 grassroots conservative activist leaders in his office to discuss ways to build support for the Senate bill among the GOP’s base.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said border security was a big topic at the meeting. “Here’s what came up that we kept hearing: ‘We don’t believe that this administration will enforce any of the rules you have for tougher border security,’ ” he said.
Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.