Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

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

Sen. Rubio
Published Jun. 28, 2013

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 aleary@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former technology executive Andrew Yang and investor Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) JOHN BAZEMORE  |  AP
    Seventeen candidates remain in the race, but only 10 Democrats qualified to make it on stage in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debate.
  2. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Barbara Lagoa, who is the first Hispanic nominated by President Donald Trump to be confirmed for a U.S. Court of Appeals vacancy out of 48 judges. Miami Herald
    “Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” said one law professor.
  3. Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) NATI HARNIK  |  AP
    The latest Democratic debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, will take place amid impeachment hearings in Washington.
  4. FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after meeting with President Donald Trump about about responses to school shootings. Bondi is preparing to defend Trump against accusations that he pressured a foreign government to aid his re-election campaign. And she’s stepping down from a lobbying where she represented foreign interests (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The special advisor to President Trump incorrectly stated Sondland’s role while appearing on national TV ahead of the EU ambassador’s testimony.
  5. On the left, NASA graphic of space junk in low Earth orbit. On the right, the view from further out. (NASA ODPO) NASA ODPO
    The U.S. Defense Department is tracking over 22,000 objects about the size of a softball or larger.
  6. Yesterday• Hillsborough
    U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R- Dover, when he served in the Florida House in 2017, SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Spano has become a vociferous Trump defender and is comparing the investigation of his own 2018 campaign financing to the impeachment, which he calls a partisan sham.
  7. United States Air Force veteran Daniel Carmichael, of Inverness, shares his opinion before a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Citrus County on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at the Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness, where the Citrus County Commission is expected to render a decision on whether to get digital subscriptions for the New York Times for all 70,000 of the county library cardholders. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes
    After two hours of debate, a motion to move forward with digital subscriptions for library cardholders fails 3-2.
  8. Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    He’s got a new voucher proposal, as well.
  9. FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, shows Jeffrey Epstein. Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night before he took his own life are expected to face criminal charges this week for falsifying prison records. That’s according to two people familiar with the matter. The federal charges could come as soon as Tuesday and are the first in connection with Epstein’s death.. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File) AP
    “The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” said the nation’s top prisons administrator to Senators on Tuesday.
  10. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts illuminated its new sign for the first time on Dec. 6, 2010. Times (2010)
    The historic donation that renamed the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is still impacting Tampa Bay’s arts community.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement