Is Marco Rubio Trying To Kill Immigration Reform? No, Not Really

Marco Rubio is threatening to withdraw support for the immigration plan he helped draft, but I would suggest not reading too much into that threat.

Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio has been at the forefront of the so-called “Gang of Eight” that worked together to come up with the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate will begin debating next week. In many ways, this was consistent with the position that Rubio has taken on immigration reform since he became a Senator in that he’s long been an advocate of fixing what he continually calls a broken immigration system. Rubio has also worked hard to convince his fellow Republicans of the wisdom of the general idea of reform, both for the country and their party, and of the merits of the Senate bill in particular. As a result, he’s taken plenty of barbs from the right over the past few months, both from fellow Senators like Ted Cruz and from the activist GOP base, many of whose members have essentially accused a man that they considered a GOP savior not one year ago, of being a “Republican In Name Only” (RINO). Now, there seems to be some signs that Rubio may be backing away from the very idea of immigration reform:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday threatened to vote against the Gang of Eight immigration bill he helped draft unless there are further changes to the legislation.

In an interview with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Rubio said more needed to be done to “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger.”

Asked if he would still back the bill if amendments to tighten border security failed, Rubio said “no.”

“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,” he added.

Rubio is one of eight senators who drafted the bipartisan Senate immigration deal that would provide a pathway for illegal immigrants already in the country, crack down on border security and create a new guest worker program.

Conservative journalist Byron York says this:

Rubio’s turning on his own bill would be an extraordinary turn of events. After playing a major role in drafting the legislation, Rubio has been its public face since then, making countless appearances on television, radio, and in print to gather support for the legislation. What has changed that would mean he would not vote for his own bill? If anything, the security measures in the bill were slightly strengthened in the Senate Judiciary Committee; the bill’s original intention to apply new security provisions only to “high-risk” sectors of the U.S.-Mexico border was expanded to apply to all sectors.

So it would be hard to argue that the Judiciary Committee changed the bill in ways that would make it unacceptable to Rubio. But now he says he will vote against the bill approved by the committee, unless major changes are made. It is hard to tell if Rubio really disagrees with the substance of the legislation approved by the committee — he suggested to Hewitt that he would vote against the bill because it wouldn’t pass without the changes, not because he objected to particular passages in the bill — but the result would be that the principal author of comprehensive immigration reform would vote against it in the Senate

If Rubio really does turn on the bill, then it will effectively be dead. Not only would there be little hope that it would pass the House, but his defection would likely bring with it the defection of other Republican Senators who may have been persuaded to vote for the bill in part by his support for it. Of course, even if Rubio does stay on the bandwagon for the bill and it passes the Senate, it’s prospects in the House are less than bright. Yesterday, Rubio spent the afternoon talking with House Republicans about the bill and quite obviously lobbying them behind closed doors to support it (an indication he’s still on board for the moment.) If this report is any indication, though, he didn’t really get a very positive reception:

So, even if Rubio stays on board with the bill and it passes the Senate, its prospects in the House aren’t very good at all, unless the House GOP Leadership is willing to put the bill on the floor and let it pass with majority Democratic, and minority Republican, support, which would be a violation of the so-called “Hastert Rule.” Now, Speaker Boehner has been willing to violate this rule a couple times during his tenure, most recently with the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill that passed the House in January. However, it’s unclear that Boehner and Cantor would be willing to do something as controversial with the base of their party as immigration reform. It would most certainly lead to challenges to their leadership at some point in the future regardless of what overall public opinion is about the matter.

But, that brings us back to what may or may not be going on with Senator Rubio and what it means for the prospects of the Senate bill. Commentators on the left such as Ed Kilgore and Kevin Drum both seem to take this in stride as part of the supposedly inevitable GOP intention to block immigration reform. Personally, I think that things are far more complicated than that. It seems clear to me that Senator Rubio still supports the basic platform of the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan. However, he’s a both a politician with a political future on his mind and an experienced legislator.1

Right now, I’d submit, Rubio is trying to walk a very fine line between keeping the immigration bill alive and trying to mollify the base of his party, both for the sake of his own political future and in the hope that the immigration bill might actually have a chance to pass in the House. As I’ve said before, it is going to be next to impossible to get significant Republican support for immigration reform without provisions in the bill that address the issue of border control. Indeed, for many border state Members of Congress, the border control issue is likely the deciding issue for their vote on the entire bill. If Rubio wants the bill, or at least whatever version of it may come out of the votes in the Senate and the House, to pass, he likely knows that it will have to include something that is going to satisfy the border control crowd. Even if it turns out that what gets put in the bill ends up being entirely symbolic and pointless, something which is not uncommon when it comes to legislation that comes out of Congress, if it ends up getting the votes necessary to pass the overall package, then the overall effort may be worth it.

Obviously, Senator Rubio likely has his own personal political motives for how he’s playing the immigration issue right now, but I’d caution those who, like me, support the overall idea of immigration reform, from tossing him under the bus at this very moment.

1 Before becoming a Senator, Rubio was a member of Florida’s House of Representatives and, for two years, the Speaker of that body.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    I tend to agree with Ezra Klein’s take on this:

    “His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards.”

    That sure sounds as if no one is ever getting a green card. That level of operational control — unless operational control is defined quite far down — is nearly impossible. And that’s the Senate bill. That will be the more immigrant-friendly pole in this debate.”

    I can’t see how a proposal which effectively means no green cards in the foreseeable future can pass the Democratically-controlled Senate.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Marco Rubio needs to wake up and realize that he’s just the brown-skinned lawn jockey on the racist party’s lawn. They are not going to back him on immigration. They are not going to support him for president. The GOP does not like immigrants. The GOP does not like anyone who is non-white. He’s Jay Z at a Klan rally.

    Wake up, Marco: they tolerate you because you’re Cuban-American. You cannot extend that to Mexicans. Not in the GOP. Not in the party you’ve stupidly chosen to belong to. You’re honorary white so long as you play the Cuban anti-Castro card. Once you start talking Latino/Hispanic you’re the gardener or the pool boy in their eyes.

    Come on over, Marco. Join the party that doesn’t despise you for your roots.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Again, this is the reality when you vote Republican. They cannot legislate. The modern Republican party cannot move anything forward, only obstruct. It doesn’t matter if you think Rubio was sincere or not, it doesn’t matter what he sincerely wanted in his heart of hearts. Republicans. Cannot. Move. Forward.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:


    Maybe the cheap labor, open border Republicans are finally waking up to the fact that comprehensive immigration reform will be demographic suicide for the Republicans and quickly turn the U.S. into a one party state.

    Maybe the cheap labor Republicans have finally looked at the numbers and realized that Latinos are some of the most liberal voters in the U.S. and that no matter how much money the cheap la or Republicans think they will make off of cheaper labor, they will lose more in higher taxes, hihger insurance, higher cost of living, and lower quality of life.

    Maybe Rubio finally looked at states like California and realized that open borders destroyed the Republican Party, destroys conservatives, and destroys the middle class.

    Maybe Ruio finally realized that the big money donors in the Republican Party who support open borders and cheap labor do not really care about the Republican Party, conservatives politics, or the middle class voters who are the core of the Republican voters.

    Maybe the Republican Party has finally learned the lesson that its survival depends upon growing the middle class and keeping middle class whites happy instead of cheap labor and growing the patron class.

  5. superdestroyer says:


    The Repubilcans should be able to easily legislate. They could pass a comprehensive border security bill that include e-verity, border control, interior control, and punishment for employers. Then in five to ten years, after that program is shown to work, they could come back and propose some form of amnesty and argue that it will not increase illegal immigration, not cost Americans money, and not be a craven attempt to make the U.S. a one party state.

    The real question every Republicans should be asking is why do the Democrats want to replace American citizens with third world immigrants.

  6. edmondo says:

    The real question every Republicans should be asking is why do the Democrats want to replace American citizens with third world immigrants.

    Because every once in a while, these “third world immigrants” spawn a child who grows up to be the junior senator from Florida and there was one who actually became president. You have to freshen up the gene pool every once in a while to ensure the water doesn’t get stagnant.

  7. superdestroyer says:


    Are you really arguing that American citizens are incapable of having children who can become senators or president? Are you really going to make the Jeb Bush argument that Americans are too stupid for high tech work and too lazy for blue collar work? Are you really going to argue that American citizens whose families have been in the country for generations and who have ancestors who died for this country should be replaced so that progressives can feel good by voting for a black man?

    No wonder most Americans are pessimistic for the future. When the leadership of the country have such hatred and contempt for their fellow citizens, people cannot help but be pessimistic.

  8. Barry says:

    “As a result, he’s taken plenty of barbs from the right over the past few months, both from fellow Senators like Ted Cruz and from the activist GOP base, many of whose members have essentially accused a man that they considered a GOP savior not one year ago, of being a “Republican In Name Only” (RINO). ”

    Doug, this and pretty much the rest of your post can be boiled down to: ‘opposition to immigration reform is a core position of the GOP; go against that and you are no longer a member in good standing’.

  9. Moosebreath says:


    “The real question every Republicans should be asking is why do the Democrats want to replace American citizens with third world immigrants.”

    Fifty years ago, the question would have been why do we want to replace American citizens with immigrants from Korea and India. One hundred years ago, the question would have been why do we want to replace American citizens with immigrants from Poland and Italy. One hundred fifty years ago, the question would have been why do we want to replace American citizens with immigrants from Germany and Norway. Two hundred years ago, it would have been why do we want to replace American citizens with immigrants from Ireland and France.

    And it was always counterproductive and racist then, too.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    edmondo, superdestroyer is a troll. Please don’t feed the trolls.

  11. Caj says:

    Marco Rubio’s only interest in immigration reform was to pander to the Latino community. He thinks that community of voters are dumb. They know how he really feels about them and he feels exactly the same way many other Republicans do. Not the slightest bit interested in Latino’s as a people it’s all about their vote down the road. He only appears to be the ‘sane’ one in the party but it’s all a ploy. If it fails he can say, look at me, I tried and hope voters will be stupid enough to fall for it. Marco Rubio is a slick as they come. Which is why he is in that party.
    They will lie, cheat and steal to win the next election, as they know they really need the Latino vote.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Obviously, Senator Rubio likely has his own personal political motives for how he’s playing the immigration issue right now, but I’d caution those who, like me, support the overall idea of immigration reform, from tossing him under the bus at this very moment.

    I love this. Hey Doug, once Rubio has thrown you under the bus it will be kind of difficult to pick up your flattened carcass off the pavement and throw him under the bus. What’s that you say? You don’t have a dog in this fight? Oh well, in that case, it’s all good.

  13. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Notice how the people that actually try to pass legislation to improve the lot of their citizens will immediately become apostates in the party? (Brewer and Scott with medicaid expansion, Christie because of hurricane Sandy etc.)

    It’s almost as though the GOP will forgive you anything (Gingrich, Sanford, North, Vitter) except trying to help anyone who is not rich.

    And now it’s your turn Rubio. Have fun!

    What I wonder, though, is whether this is the best possible outcome for Democrats (not for Americans as a whole, obviously, and particularly not for immigrants). If this bill passes the Senate, which looks more likely than anything else, and then gets killed in the House, it will show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only people capable of passing an immigration bill would be Dem supermajorities. Latinos might actually turn out in the Midterms then, and if so, they might turn the House back to the Dems. If that happened the immigration bill would pass, but with a policy much further left than it is now. At that point, you have the GOP’s reputation even more cemented as xenophobic, and a bill that would be an improvement over the one that is being considered right now.

  14. Sam Malone says:

    Rubio is playing both sides against the middle.
    Boehner will decide if this gets a vote in the house…that orange f’ing cry-baby is the only one that matters.

  15. stonetools says:

    Jonathon Bernstein sez: the fate of immigration reform is in the hands not of Rubio, but the House Republican leadership:

    And the truth is that there’s really no other way. The reality has always been that a lot of Republicans would not vote for any kind of path to citizenship at all, so Democrats were always going to have to supply the bulk of the votes for any imaginable version of comprehensive immigration reform.

    In other words, what it all comes down to is that Republicans have to make a choice. If they want to spike comprehensive immigration reform — perhaps because they fear anti-immigrant voters in primaries, perhaps because they fear newly (eventually) enfranchised immigrant voters — they can do that, simply by not bringing up the bill in the House. If they want to pass the bill — perhaps because they fear angering large numbers of Latino and other immigrant or immigrant-sympathetic voters — they can do that, too; for the most part, all they’ll need to do is get out of the way.

  16. superdestroyer says:


    You skipped over the 50 years (from world war I to 1965) when the U.S. has very little immigration. Are you really going to propose that the U.S. would have been better off in 1965 is it had maintained very high levels of immigration over those 50 years. Or maybe we can admit that high levels of both legal and illegal immigraiton drives down wages and has made life much harder to blue dollar and middle class Americans.

    Once again, why do progressives want to replace the generations of Americans who overcalls two world wars and the depression with a huge number of third world immigrants who will move on after the quality of life in the U.S. collapses.

  17. Moosebreath says:


    Please re-read what I said again. To help you, I will put it in smaller words, and without so many foreign names.

    People have been saying the same thing ever since this country was founded as to each new group of immigrants. It has never been right, and it has always been racist.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    Marco is playing this game in the hope that his GOP colleagues will wake up and smell the demographics. It’s not going to happen. The House is going to blow up ANYTHING the Senate sends its way.

  19. superdestroyer says:


    What is amazing is that Democrats liberalized immigration in 1965, passed amnesty in 1986, and have been complaining about the shrinking middle class and the lack of real wage growth ever since.

    What is amazing is how many Democrats want to throw the middle class under the bus just to get more automatic Democratic Party voters. Is turning the U.S. into a one party state worth destroying the middle class, lowering the wages for virtually everyone outside of the patron class, and driving the standard of living in the U.S.

    What is amazing is that liberals look back at the high wage, high union membership 1950’s talk about what to return to such economic times and then do everything they can to do the opposite.

  20. Amos Jones says:

    troll [trohl] noun: Anyone I disagree with.