Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Senate passes immigration bill, but at what cost to Sen. Marco Rubio?

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the most sweeping changes to immigration law in nearly three decades, offering up to 11 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship while spending tens of billions on a massive security buildup along the southern border with Mexico.

The momentous vote, emphasized by a 68-32 majority that included 14 Republicans, is a sign of how far immigration reform has come since the last attempt collapsed in 2007. But the triumph appears fleeting. The GOP-controlled House has signaled strong opposition to the bill.

The scrambled dynamic held for the man in the spotlight, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped write the bill, helped bring along fellow Republicans but has also become maligned by conservatives who saw him as the next president.

Increasingly, on TV, conservative talk radio and social media, Rubio has been cast as a sellout, liar and flip-flopper. This was the 2010 candidate who in a debate declared that "earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty." The bill passed Thursday has an earned path, requiring immigrants to pay taxes, fines and wait at least a decade before getting permanent residency. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote this week that Rubio had moved a step closer to a Charlie Crist-like hug of President Barack Obama.

"He's really hurt himself with the tea party," said Ron Kirby, 68, of Alexandria, Va., who stood outside the Capitol in protest of the immigration bill Thursday.

After the vote, the bipartisan group of senators who crafted the bill declared victory and said the vote would pressure the House to take action. But Rubio was a no-show.

While the damage is measurable — a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week showed Rubio's favorability rating among Republicans has slid 11 points since August 2012 — it's too soon to know if it is enduring.

Rubio's involvement in a complex issue has brought him praise, from even some of the Republicans who voted against the bill, and added heft to a resume that heretofore has featured rhetorical grace over legislative accomplishment.

"I don't have any idea how long any of the negative repercussions might last," said Dana Perino, a Republican consultant and Fox News commentator. "What I've admired is that he consistently has stayed on the merits, calm and collected, regardless of some of the vile things people have said about him. We can't expect our elected leaders to always vote the way we personally would."

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Rubio addressed the fallout among conservatives, calling it a "real trial for me." But unlike his dithering in past weeks — moves that annoyed Gang of 8 colleagues — he made a forceful case for why he felt the bill was necessary, emphasizing even more border security that was added to the bill with Rubio's help.

"In my heart and in my mind, I know that we must solve this problem once and for all, or it will only get worse. It will only get harder to solve," Rubio said. He followed it with a five-page open letter to conservatives that began, "Dear friends."

On Thursday, Rubio went for an emotional strike, telling the story of his Cuban-born parents' early struggles to make it in America, the paper his father carried around that read "I am looking for work."

They were some of the first English words his father learned, Rubio said, providing new detail in a family story that has been the heart of speeches from his time in the Florida House to his rise as a national figure.

"Sometimes, we focus so much on how immigrants could change America, that we forget that America changes immigrants even more," said Rubio, 42.

Not long after, senators entered the chamber and sat at their desks for the vote, presided over by Vice President Joe Biden. Rubio rose, buttoned his jacket and added his "aye." The no votes from other potential 2016 presidential candidates, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, did not go unnoticed.

The pitfalls were clear to Rubio and his political advisers when he decided to jump into the debate and join the Gang of 8. He had a strategy: Flood the conservative airwaves and news columns to talk about the bill, disarming critics with his accessibility and personality. It wasn't a clear success but the tone has been markedly less heated than 2007, a shift that also owes to the GOP establishment's desire to improve its standing with a growing Hispanic electorate.

Rubio's record otherwise is decidedly conservative, opposing budget deals and calling for the repeal of the health care law. "He's with us on most issues," Kirby said. "Of course we don't know how this immigration thing will turn out. If it's killed, a lot of people will forget and move on. That's the way he comes back."

The same Washington Post poll that showed Rubio's standing among Republicans had fallen showed gains among Democrats. The bipartisan stripes he has earned could be a calling card in a future campaign. Rubio says he won't decide whether to run for president until next year.

He and his political team seem to have calculated he can outlast any short-term political fallout.

"He's proven he's not an ideologue," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Gang of 8 member. "He's using his political capital for the common good. . . . This will only enhance him."

Alex Leary can be reached at

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

Senate passes immigration bill, but at what cost to Sen. Marco Rubio? 06/27/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 11:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.