Amnesty is still the top liability for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who officially entered the 2016 race on Monday.
In 2013, Rubio was the face of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive amnesty bill. The Congressional Budget Office determined that Rubio’s legislation, which would give nearly every illegal immigrant in America a pathway to citizenship while massively increasing legal immigration to unprecedented levels, would lower the wages of American workers. After championing the Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate, Rubio’s poll numbers plummeted. He remained silent on the issue and refused to join the other “Gang of Eight” Senators to lobby the House to pass his comprehensive amnesty bill.
As Politico points out, “two years later, immigration remains the freshman senator’s No. 1 liability in his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination,” and the “issue is also bound to be re-litigated by his opponents and voters.”
During his announcement speech, Rubio said America must “modernize our immigration laws.” In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity after his announcement, Rubio said, “we still need to do immigration reform.” In an NPR interview, Rubio said he has done more on immigration reform than Hillary Clinton.
“Well, I don’t know about the others, but I’ve done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did,” he told NPR. “I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that’s more than she’s ever done. She’s given speeches on it, but she’s never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it. It didn’t work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn’t think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.”
Regarding President Barack Obama’s executive actions, Rubio has said that Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive amnesty should not be repealed while Obama’s new executive amnesty for the illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens should. During the recent fight to defund Obama’s executive amnesty, Rubio appeared to be all over the map regarding the “clean” Homeland Security funding bill that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) ultimately got passed with the support of House Democrats. Rubio told reporters in Las Vegas that, “Yeah, we have to fund homeland security. Look, I’m in favor of any measure that has a chance of succeeding that could stop the new order, but the truth of the matter is the president’s not going to sign it and we don’t have the votes to pass it in the Senate. We can’t let homeland security shut down.”
His office then tried to clear up Rubio’s remarks, with a Rubio spokesman telling outlets that Rubio supports “stopping the new executive order on immigration and is willing to support any approach we could get passed to stop it. But the President had made clear he will veto any effort to stop his unconstitutional order. And Senate Democrats have made clear they will not even end their filibuster on the DHS funding bill. The result will be a DHS shutdown which would be harmful to our national security. The answer is not for Republicans to surrender and pass a clean funding bill. The answer is for the President and Senate Democrats to abandon the executive order and cooperate in passing a series of immigration bills beginning with real border security.”
According to Politico, “when pressed on the matter on the campaign trail, Rubio plans to tell voters that the comprehensive bill he co-authored will never pass Congress.”
He will reportedly argue that his immigration reform should be taken up in pieces. Politico notes that “a President Rubio would only entertain that possibility of citizenship after a enforcement-minded immigration laws are enacted first.”
But that may not sit well with conservatives and Tea Partiers who “feel let down and betrayed by their native son,” especially in the early primary states. In fact, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Republican primary voters “said they would be less favorable toward a candidate ‘who supports a pathway to citizenship for foreigners who are currently staying illegally in the United States.'”
As the Des Moines Register noted, Rubio’s support for the Gang of Eight bill will be an obstacle in Iowa, which hosts the first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses. As the outlet noted, “65 percent of likely Republican caucus attendees said they opposed a path to permanent residency for people living in the U.S. illegally” in the most recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Iowa poll. Before he decided to join the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” along with Republican Senators like John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rubio, as Breitbart News noted, “led the field of potential GOP presidential candidates in Iowa with 22% support” in February of 2013. Four months after he became the face of the “Gang of Eight” bill, he dropped to 5th place in Iowa” and has plummeted further in the months ahead. In the most recent Des Moines Register poll, Rubio placed 10th with 3%-4% support.
Immigration will also be an issue in New Hampshire, where 41% of potential primary voters have already said that Jeb Bush’s stance on amnesty for illegal immigrants would be a “deal-killer.” Even establishment Republican “insiders” have conceded that a pro-amnesty candidate cannot win the party’s presidential nomination.
During the 2008 election cycle, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) championing of his McCain-Kennedy comprehensive amnesty bill nearly derailed his presidential bid, almost bankrupting his campaign and forcing McCain to fly in coach class to town halls in New Hampshire. The Republican primary electorate will be more conservative eight years later at a time when more Americans do not want massive increases in immigration levels in an economy that has far from recovered for Americans at the lower ends of the economic ladder who are still trying to achieve the American Dream that Rubio movingly discusses. A Gallup poll, for instance, found that just seven percent wanted increases in immigration levels while an overwhelming majority was dissatisfied with current immigration levels.
“We don’t have enough jobs for our lower-skilled workers now. What sense does it make to bring in millions more?” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) recently argued in a Washington Post op-ed, pointing out that real median income increased for U.S. workers when Congress enacted immigration caps after the first great wave of immigration while the middle class has contracted after Congress lifted immigration caps to usher in the second great wave of immigration in the 1960s.
Sessions said that “it is not mainstream, but extreme, to continue surging immigration beyond any historical precedent and to do so at a time when almost 1 in 4 Americans age 25 to 54 does not have a job. What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.”
During his announcement speech, Rubio said “too many Americans are starting to doubt whether achieving” the American Dream that his parents achieved “is still possible.” He said that “hardworking families that are living paycheck to paycheck, one unexpected event away from disaster, young Americans unable to start a career or a business or a family because they owe thousands of dollars in student loans for degrees that did not even lead to jobs, and small business owners who are left to struggle under the weight of more taxes, more regulation and more government.” In a Tuesday USA Today op-ed, Rubio said the “real American Dream is about earning a comfortable wage, raising your family in a safe neighborhood, worshiping as you choose, providing your children a good education and retiring with dignity after a long and fulfilling life.”
As Rubio hits the campaign trail, his words about the American Dream will resonate with conservative primary voters who are motivated to fight to ensure that future generations of Americans can do better than their parents. But he may realize that those same conservative primary voters are opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants and massive comprehensive amnesty legislation–like Rubio’s “Gang of Eight” bill–because it would make it tougher for Americans and legal immigrants already in the country to achieve the American Dream.