WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continued his conservative media tour Tuesday with an afternoon telephone interview on Rush Limbaugh's talk radio show. The back and forth went so well, from Rubio's point of view, that at 6 p.m. his office was still tweeting out highlights from the exchange.
That Rubio was there to woo Limbaugh, who has been a constant opponent of an immigration compromise, became clear at the outset, when Rubio said he had been listening to Limbaugh's chatter for a long while.
"I remember the TV program," Rubio said. "Do you remember your TV program?"
Limbaugh did indeed, laughing, "That's way back," he said. "That's 20 years."
Rubio laid out his broad principles for immigration legislation, including a precondition, popular with Republicans, that any pathway to citizenship could come only after additional border security and an employment verification program are instituted.
When Limbaugh worried aloud that real border security wouldn't happen, Rubio quickly agreed. "This is going to be a challenge," he said.
"If, in fact, this bill does not have real triggers in there, if there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won't support it," Rubio continued. "But the principles clearly call for that. Now, obviously, we have to make sure the law does, too."
Rubio also sought to explain his decision to join a bipartisan group of eight senators pushing for immigration legislation as a politically savvy move. When Limbaugh warned that he thought President Barack Obama and Democrats planned to use immigration as a wedge issue, "to continue to beat the Republicans up for two more years in hopes of winning the House," Rubio acknowledged the possibility, before adding that it was one of the reasons he wanted to get out ahead on an immigration overhaul.
"That's precisely why I thought it was important that our principles be out there early," Rubio said. "They can try to sell that," he said, referring to Democrats, "but I doubt people are going to buy it because the reality is we have put something that is very common sense and reasonable."
Echoing a point he made at a news conference Monday, Rubio said, "I've seen the good that legal immigration has done for our country, and I see the strain that illegal immigration places on our country."
By the end, Limbaugh seemed downright smitten. "Well, what you are doing is admirable and noteworthy," he said. "You are recognizing reality. You're trumpeting it, you're shouting it."