One of the key questions that's been swirling around the immigration debate from the beginning is whether Marco Rubio is being an honest broker. Does he really and truly want immigration reform? Or does he want to play the role of reasonable conservative for as long as he can, and then, more in sadness than in anger, turn against his own bill at the end because it's not tough enough? Byron York reports that it's looking like the latter:
Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday, Rubio said the Senate should “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he was working with other senators on amendments to do just that.
Then Hewitt asked: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”
Rubio answered, “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no.”
"Those amendments" are poison pills that would require 100 percent operational control of the border before any new green cards are issued, a standard that's pretty obviously impossible to meet. The only reason to insist on them is to give Rubio a plausible exit strategy from his own bill.
Or so it seems. Maybe Rubio has something else in mind. But it's sure starting to look like Rubio has figured out that his support for immigration reform is doing him more harm than good with the tea party folks he needs if he ever wants to become president. What's more, he's probably less confident than he used to be about the chances of getting the House to go along anyway, which makes it pointless for him to keep taking damage over the issue.
We'll see. Rubio's support, as always, is critical to immigration reform. If he bolts, it's dead. But if he insists on his poison pill amendments, it's dead too. I'd say the odds on passage just dropped dramatically.