Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has boxed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) into a corner on immigration. Cruz has come out guns-a-blazing against Rubio all week, firing first and escalating the battle every time Rubio has responded.
Now he’s taken the fight to a place where Rubio is caught in a glaring contradiction the likes of which haven’t been seen since his involvement in his landmark legislative achievement—a more-than-thousand-page immigration bill—in his short time serving in the U.S. Senate.
What’s more, Cruz rolled out his immigration reform plan at the Sunshine Summit in Rubio’s backyard in Florida. Cruz’s plan calls for a 180-day moratorium on H1-B visa issuance, a halt to any hike in legal immigration, stoppage of refugees flooding into the U.S. from the Middle East, and more that Rubio is diametrically opposed to. Cruz was escalating what’s been a three-day-long war so far with Rubio in a way that called Rubio’s bluff when the Floridian claimed he had the same position on immigration as the Texan senator.
The two have been dueling since the GOP presidential primary debate in Milwaukee earlier this week, and Cruz’s newly released immigration reform plan takes the brewing battle to a new level. It puts Rubio in a spot where he can’t go while remaining consistent with his rhetoric and comes as Rubio is under increasing scrutiny over his role in pushing the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill through the U.S. Senate alongside senior Democrats and President Obama a couple of years ago.
The first shot in the battle came during the debate in Milwaukee, when Cruz for the first time made the case against amnesty for illegal aliens in economic terms. Cruz didn’t go after Rubio specifically—but he laid the groundwork for what would eventually become a multi-day nationwide war with his fellow Hispanic senator.
Cruz said during the debate:
The Democrats are laughing because if Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose. And you know, I understand that when the mainstream media covers immigration, it doesn’t often see it as an economic issue. But I can tell you for millions of Americans at home, watching this, it is a very personal economic issue. And I will say the politics of it would be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande. Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press. Then we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation. And I will say for those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told, it is anti-immigrant. It’s offensive. I am the son of an immigrant who came legally from Cuba. To seek the American dream. And we can embrace legal immigration while believing in the rule of law. And I would note, try going illegally to another country. Try going to China or Japan. Try to go into Mexico. See what they do. Every sovereign nation secures its borders and it is not compassionate to say we’re not going to enforce the laws and we’re going to drive down the wages for millions of hard-working men and women. That is abandoning the hard-working men and women.
It was at that moment that Cruz signaled he was ready to take immigration down this economic road—the road that billionaire Donald Trump has taken, to great success—and head into battle with the permanent political class on the issue on which lobbyists and career politicians are weakest.
From there, Cruz appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio program earlier this week and was asked about the differences between him and Rubio on immigration. Ingraham played a clip of Rubio—the chief GOP sponsor alongside future Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) of the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill last Congress—using rhetoric that sounds like he wanted to secure the border before granting amnesty, which is legal status, to illegal aliens.
Rubio says in the clip Ingraham played for Cruz:
What I’ve learned from that experience [working with Schumer on the Gang of Eight bill] is that the only way forward on immigration isn’t just to pass enforcement bills, but to actually do it. You’re going to have to prove to the American people not just that E-Verify has been implemented, not just that Entry-Exit tracking system has been implemented, and not just that the wall has been built, you’re going to have to prove that it’s working—that illegal immigration numbers have come substantially down. And if we do that, then I think people are going to be very reasonable about how we modernize legal immigration.
Cruz slammed him in response when Ingraham asked for his reaction to Rubio’s comments:
My reaction in all of politics is talk is cheap, that you know where someone is based on their actions. As the Scripture says, you shall know them by their fruits. We had an epic battle in Congress just a couple years ago—we’re not talking about 10 or 20 years ago, we’re talking about just a couple of years ago—on the question of amnesty. The argument that we need to secure the border first was an argument I was making over and over again, it was an argument you were making over and over again. It was an argument Jeff Sessions was making over and over again. And all the folks on the other side dismissed it, saying we were wrong-headed and anti-immigrant for believing we should actually secure the borders. I have a deep and genuine disagreement with that view and so look I got to say as a voter when a politician is saying the exact opposite things of what they’ve done in office, I treat that with a pretty healthy degree of skepticism.
Cruz proceeded to further pick apart Rubio on immigration. He also laid out why he put forward certain amendments during the Gang of Eight bill fight on the Senate floor and in the Senate Judiciary Committee—like one that would have increased H1-B visas significantly—detailing how they were a part of an effort to expose hypocrisy among Gang of Eight members like Rubio and Schumer and their supporters in the Senate, not policy positions he actually holds.
Cruz said of increasing immigration levels including increasing H-1B visas to the United States:
I don’t believe that’s a good idea. And let me say a couple of things on that: First of all, it’s important to understand on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was leading the fight along with Jeff Sessions to defeat this bill—the Gang of Eight bill. And as a result I was introducing a whole series of amendments in part to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Democrats. So, for example, the Democrats claimed they were supporting high-tech workers so I introduced an amendment on that—and every Democrat voted against it. It demonstrated that this was all a political endeavor for them and that what they were saying wasn’t true. I mentioned a minute ago the amendment I introduced saying that no one would be eligible for welfare benefits—every one of the members of the Gang of Eight, that was part of their talking points. So when I introduced an amendment and they all voted against it, it demonstrated that their talking points weren’t true. So it’s important to understand those amendments in the context of a concerted strategy to defeat the Gang of Eight bill.
This is the first time Cruz has made this argument about why. more than two years ago. he put forward these amendments—and it begs the question as to why he took so long to make this case. But an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who fought alongside Cruz to eventually kill the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, confirmed as well that Cruz’s and others’ amendments were for exactly that purpose—and not a statement of his policy belief.
Stephen Miller, Sessions’ communications director, said in an email;
Numerous conservatives offered amendments to the progressive Gang of Eight bill that were designed to improve enforcement or combat amnesty. That does not mean these Senators supported the bill with those changes. That would be an extremely untenable interpretation. For instance, conservatives backed a floor amendment to require the completion of a border fence before the amnesty went into effect (Gang of Eight killed the amendment). No one would say that all of these Senators were therefore in support of the Gang of Eight’s radical amnesty. A multibillionaire coalition was trying to ram this bill through and a group of conservative lawmakers were trying to do everything possible to protect American workers from their open borders scheme. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the Gang of Eight Senators were meeting in secret each morning to plot the death of conservative amendments, all the while coordinating surreptitiously with the White House.
There’s a whole separate line of questioning that Cruz is likely to face about his evolution on the issue, but in the context of his war with Rubio this move represents—with perhaps the exception of Trump’s bouts with Rubio—the most significant escalation on a policy basis that any of Rubio’s opponents have taken an issue with all campaign.
Rubio and his team, meanwhile, have attempted to obfuscate the issue as the war with Cruz has escalated. Conservative columnist Derek Hunter, writing in The Daily Caller, detailed how Rubio’s team has been “circulating a video, labeled as being from June of 2013, in which Texas Senator Ted Cruz expresses support for amnesty.”
“The 11 million who are here illegally would be granted legal status once the border was secured — not before — but after the border was secured, they would be granted legal status. And indeed, they would be eligible for permanent legal residency. But they would not be eligible for citizenship,” Cruz says in the video.
Hunter noted in his Thursday evening column that “the 12-second clip was circulated by Rubio campaign staffers on social media.”
Hunter specifically cites tweets from Rubio campaign staffers Todd Harris and Joe Pounder in which they push the video before then detailing a series of tweets from Amanda Carpenter, a conservative columnist who served as Cruz’s communications director during the Gang of Eight bill fight, debunking the attack from Team Rubio.
Hunter, citing Carpenter, discovered that Team Rubio’s attack on Cruz on the amnesty bill falls short—as evidenced by another longer video that appeared on the same social media account.
“The same YouTube account that posted the first video, named ‘Hypo-Cruz,’ has a second, longer video of Senator Cruz on his ‘Gang of 8’ immigration bill amendment,” Hunter wrote. “It appears to back up Carpenter’s assertion that Cruz was attempting to expose the bill as being only about citizenship for illegal aliens.”
Rubio’s team was pushing this narrative about Cruz everywhere, as Hot Air’s AllahPundit wrote in his own post.
All that said, shortly thereafter while in South Carolina on Thursday, Rubio himself attacked Cruz in response.
“He supported a massive expansion of the H-1B program, a 500 percent increase,” Rubio said of Cruz, according to the New York Times. “So, if you look at it, I don’t think our positions are dramatically different. I do believe that we have to deal with immigration reform in a serious way, and it begins by proving to people that illegal immigration is under control.”
In response to Rubio’s comments in South Carolina, Cruz hammered Rubio on the Mike Gallagher show on Friday morning:
This last debate for example you saw a clear divide between a majority of the candidates on that stage who have supported amnesty and my record, which is the only person on that stage who has consistently opposed amnesty and indeed who led the fight against the massive amnesty proposal in the Senate a few years ago when establishment Republicans joined with Democrats trying to pass amnesty. That’s a healthy debate and what we should be talking about.
Cruz continued by noting his “position on immigration has been crystal clear from day one,” and when “Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid and Barack Obama joined with a handful of establishment Republicans to push the massive Gang of Eight bill, that was a moment that everyone decided what side do you stand on? Where do you stand? It was a gut check moment. It was a moment that revealed exactly what someone believes and, in the Senate from day one, I led the fight against the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, stood shoulder to shoulder with Jeff Sessions, introduced amendment after amendment after amendment designed to stop the Gang of Eight amnesty bill—and we succeeded.”
Cruz added that “Marco had a fairly remarkable comment in which he suggested my record was exactly like his on immigration.”
“I laughed out loud at that,” Cruz said. “Marco’s a friend, but that statement was truly stunning. That’s like Obama saying my position is the same as his on Obamacare. That’s like the Ayatollah Khamenei saying my position is the same as his on the Iranian nuclear deal. It is laughingly, blazingly, on its face false.”
On Friday at the Sunshine Summit in Florida, Rubio took it a step even further by saying he’s “puzzled and quite frankly surprised” by Cruz’s differentiation from him on immigration “since Ted’s position on immigration is not much different than mine.”
“He is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally. If he’s changed that position, then he certainly has a right to change his position on that issue, but he should be clear about that,” Rubio said of Cruz, according to PJ Media.
So when Cruz rolled out his plan later in the day, he took a step on Rubio’s home field in Florida in a direction Rubio is currently unprepared to go.
Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, over the course several emails with Breitbart News about this on Friday refused to directly answer whether Rubio supports Cruz’s publicly stated beliefs on H1-B visas and legal immigration levels. Part of the reason why Conant is refusing to answer that question is because Rubio is on record with the various policy prescriptions he has backed over the years supporting an increase in H1-B visas—through the I-Squared bill and the “Gang of Eight” bill—and hikes in immigration levels through the Gang of Eight bill and other legislation.
So, the ball’s in Rubio’s court now, and it’s unclear whether Rubio is—just hours after he said it—going to be able to stand by his comments on Friday morning that “Ted’s position on immigration is not much different than mine.”