WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped write the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, has shifted back to his original position that piecemeal legislation is the way forward.
"We've been lectured for the better part of a month now how we need to be realistic, that Barack Obama was not going to repeal Obamacare," Rubio said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "Likewise, I think supporters of immigration reform need to be realistic. The House is just not going to jump on board for whatever the Senate passes."
That's been evident for months. But in recent interviews the Florida Republican has sounded more distant from the Senate legislation. On CNN on Friday, a casual viewer could have assumed that he had nothing to do with it — as he referred to "whatever the Democrats in the Senate are demanding."
Rubio even opposes using the Senate bill as a negotiating point in a conference if the House can manage to pass a limited bill.
"Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told Breitbart News.
Politically, there is truth to what Rubio says. The House is a sticking point. Even the White House has softened demands for one big bill, though the president still wants a comprehensive approach.
Rubio says he is just reflecting reality. Yet the signals he is sending also reflect the damage he has suffered from his involvement in the Senate deal, which provides a path to citizenship for millions of people, provided they pay fines and wait more than a decade.
Before he joined the Gang of 8, Rubio said he wanted a piecemeal approach.
"Usually, when Congress approaches issues of this magnitude with one big bill, it almost always requires you to swallow five really bad ideas in exchange for one good one," he told the Times in December 2012.
Yet his views changed as he joined the bipartisan group — eagerly enough that he scooped his colleagues on the news. Rubio came to see that you couldn't do one thing — more border enforcement, for example — without addressing the 11 million people here illegally.
Still, after the Senate bill passed in June, Rubio more or less dropped out of view. Prospects of getting something done are grim, despite growing outside pressure on the House, including a blitz this week when 600 conservatives will descend on Capitol Hill in a call for action. House Democrats have introduced a bill that resembles what the Senate passed, minus the so-called border surge, and California Rep. Jeff Denham just became the first Republican to embrace it.
Now comes Rubio.
"A comprehensive approach and a comprehensive bill are two separate things," he told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday. "A comprehensive approach means you ultimately solve all the problems involving immigrating. And I ultimately think we have to solve all the problems because they are interrelated. A comprehensive bill is one that tries to do it all at once.
"You could theoretically come up with a bill that does it all, and does it all well. But realistically, given the environment we're in now, especially, the only chance of success on immigration may be a series of bills that build on each other."