Watch: Rubio Pressed On Past Immigration Positions, Spars With Jeb

Republican presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio was pressed about his past positions on immigration and sparred with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at Thursday’s second GOP presidential debate on the Fox News Channel.

Rubio was asked, “When you ran for Senate in 2010, you made clear that you opposed legalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants. You promised repeatedly that you would oppose it as a US Senator as well.” He was then played a montage of past statements he has made on the issue.

He was then asked, “Within two years of getting elected, you were co-sponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty. Haven’t you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?”

Rubio answered, “No, because if you look at the quote, and it’s very specific, and it says ‘blanket…amnesty.’ I do not support blanket amnesty. I do not support amnesty.” Moderator Megyn Kelly then cut in to say, “You said more than that, sir. You said, ‘earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.’ You supported earned path to citizenship.”

Rubio then responded, “It was. It absolutely has been. And at the time, and the context of that was in 2009 and 2010, where the last effort for legalization was an effort done in the Senate, it was an effort led by several people that provided almost an instant path, with very little obstacles, moving forward. What I’ve always said is this issue does need to be solved. They’ve been talking about this issue for 30 years, and nothing ever happens, and I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to deal with it when I am president. Number one, we’re going to keep ISIS out of America. If we don’t know who you are, or why you’re coming, you will not get into the United States. Number two, we are going to enforce our immigration laws. I am the son and the grandson of immigrants. And I know that securing our borders is not anti-immigrant, and we will do it. We will hire 20,000 new border agents instead of 20,000 new IRS agents. We will finish the 700 miles of fencing and walls our nation needs. We’ll have mandatory E-Verify, a mandatory entry/exit tracking system, and until all of that is in place, and all of that is working, and we can prove to the people of this country that illegal immigration is under control, nothing else is going to happen. We are not going to round up and deport 12 million people, but we’re not going to around handing out citizenship cards either. there will be a process. We will see what the American people are willing to support, but it will not be unconstitutional executive orders, like the ones Barack Obama has forced on us.”

Jeb then said, “I’m kind of confused, because he was the sponsor of the Gang of Eight bill that did require a bunch of thresholds, but it ultimately allowed for citizenship over an extended period of time. I mean, that’s a fact, and he asked me to support that. And I supported him, because I think people, when you’re elected you need to do things, and he led the charge to finally fix this immigration problem that has existed now for, as Marco says, for 30 years. And then he cut and run because it wasn’t popular amongst conservatives, I guess. Here’s what i believe, and i wrote a book about this called ‘Immigration Wars.’ … We should have a path to legal status for the 12 million people that are here illegally. It means come out from the shadows, pay a fine, earn legal status by working, by paying taxes, learning English, not committing crimes, and earn legal status, not cutting in front of the line for people that are patiently waiting outside. That is the — I think that’s the conservative consensus pragmatic approach to how to solve this problem.”

Rubio then said to Jeb that “Immigration Wars” is “the book where you changed your position on immigration, because you used to support a path to citizenship.” Jeb responded, “So did you.”

Rubio continued that there’s no way forward without controlling illegal immigration first. Jeb responded, “I have supported a consensus approach to solving this problem wherever it came up, and in 2007 it almost passed when my brother was president of the United States, a bipartisan approach got close. Barack Obama actually had the poison pill to stop it then. And when you led the charge with the Gang of Eight, I supported it, because you asked me to. I think it’s important for people in elected office to try to forge consensus to solve problems. There’s never going do be perfect bill.”

Rubio responded, “There’s not going to be any consensus on this issue until we enforce our immigration laws. That is abundantly clear, you are not going to be able to ram down the throat of the american people your approach.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett