Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, an expected candidate for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, took a step to beefing up his conservative credentials this week by renouncing the comprehensive immigration reform bill he helped to write back in April.
The bill was crafted by a group of Republicans and Democrats working together, referred to in the press as “The Gang of Eight.” Among the provisions of the sweeping bill was what immigration reform advocates call a “pathway to citizenship.” Rather than simply calling for the arrest or deportation of anyone in the United States illegally, the bill offered a procedure by which an illegal immigrant could become a U.S. citizen.
That provision outraged conservatives who back a zero-tolerance approach on immigration.
The comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate in June with all Democratic senators backing it along with 14 Republicans. But in the House of Representatives, where there is a Republican majority dominated by far-right Tea Party representatives, Speaker John Boehner has not allowed the bill to come to a vote.
Rubio took the lead in pushing for the bill, with political observers saying the move was designed to showcase his leadership qualities for a presidential run. But with the bill now waylaid by the more extreme conservatives in the House, Rubio has pulled a classic flip-flop.
Over the weekend, his spokesperson Alex Conant sent an e-mail to the ultra-conservative Breitbart News web site, saying that Rubio now considers a “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform — in other words, a series of small bills rather than one comprehensive piece of legislation — to be more “realistic.”
Conant later sent a similar e-mail to the liberal site Talking Points Memo, as well as to Politico.
Joan Walsh, an editor-at-large for the online magazine Salon, wrote that Rubio appears to be repositioning himself for a run at the Republican nomination by refashioning himself to appeal to the largely white Tea Party constituency.
“Maybe Rubio thinks, hey, flip-flopping worked for Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney,” Walsh wrote. “Both men renounced signature legislative accomplishments when running for the GOP presidential nomination — McCain said he wouldn’t vote for his own immigration reform bill, and Romney famously denounced Romneycare — in order to win over the party’s conservative base. Well, it worked to secure them the nomination — but of course neither man became president.”