Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Rubio Says Process Counts in Immigration Overhaul

As fans of an immigration overhaul breathlessly follow the Senate’s “gang of eight,” it’s important to understand how crucial a robust regular-order process is to keeping Sen. Marco Rubio on board.

The Floridian, perhaps more than any other Republican, has the ability to deliver conservative support for a comprehensive immigration overhaul, or at least to prevent a fatal backlash, including among House members. But assuming that Rubio remains happy with the philosophical principles undergirding a deal that is still being worked out by the bipartisan gang of eight, the process by which actual legislation is moved through the Senate is just as important to maintaining the Florida Republican’s backing.

“We want public hearings, a committee markup and an amendment process on the floor,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told CQ Roll Call on Monday. “We need to get buy-in from [everyone.] We want people to understand what’s in the bill and what’s not in the bill.”

Rubio aides confirmed that the senator and prospective 2016 presidential candidate is pleased with the progress of the bill language. Staffers for senators working on the legislation were meeting Monday to continue their work. Aides said it would be false to interpret Rubio’s letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., as an attempt to sabotage momentum or distance himself from the group and their work.

But Rubio advisers made clear that he views a lengthy, traditional process that includes hearings, a healthy committee markup and an open floor debate during which senators can offer amendments as key to his ability to build and maintain conservative support for a comprehensive immigration rewrite. Rubio does not have a specific timetable in mind. But anything viewed as “rushed” would violate promises he made to grass-roots conservatives and could cost his support, even if he is OK with the bill in principle.

President Barack Obama has warned that if Congress doesn’t act quickly, he’ll introduce his own immigration bill and exert pressure on lawmakers to approve an overhaul. And critics of Rubio’s deliberate approach will probably warn that slow-walking legislation will provide opponents time to assemble sufficient public opposition to sink the bill.

But Rubio, who remains as supportive of an overhaul as he was when the gang of eight began negotiating, has calculated the exact opposite.

He ascribes Congress’ past failures to approve immigration policy changes to a rushed legislative process. He believes that moving too fast on an issue as sensitive and complicated as immigration generates voter suspicion and makes it more difficult for broad, bipartisan support to build behind the effort. A bill negotiated in a backroom, in his view, could lead to surprises that scare members away from supporting the bill and result in fewer lawmakers taking ownership of the legislation.

But Rubio also is keenly aware of important political realities as they relate to the conservative base of the GOP and the stature he commands within that movement.

During the 112th Congress, most major legislation was decided in closed-door negotiations that included only a handful of members, after which a bill was presented to rank-and-file lawmakers as a take-it-or-leave it proposition. This strategy caused frustration, particularly among House Republicans, and was partly responsible for Speaker John A. Boehner’s decision this year to renew his commitment to running legislation through “regular order.”

Rubio understands this frustration, which he has felt in the Senate as well. That’s why, during his media blitz on conservative talk radio back in January, he vowed to Rush Limbaugh and other influential hosts that the legislative process for an immigration overhaul would be transparent and deliberate, and that he would not be a party to jamming a bill through Congress.

Regular order would also allow Rubio the time he needs to show conservatives that he’s fighting for the principles that are important to them, regardless of the final makeup of the legislation and whether it passes.

In the end, Rubio is telling his colleagues, the perception of the legislative process here is as politically important to the success of the legislation as what’s in the bill.

  • publiussteve

    The key issue IS the instant legalization/amnesty that illegal immigrants would receive under the Rubio/Schumer plan, that is deceptively called “probationary legal status.” All this talk about a years-long wait for a green card etc., is secondary and meant to distract and fool the American people and make mass amnesty palatable.

    There must be real border security in place, E-VERIFY in place nationwide and operating, and a visa overstay system operational — and AFTER all of this is functioning and has survived inevitable legal challenges from the ACLU, La Raza etc. — then we can talk about what to do next. This will take at least several years, not months.

    If we don’t do this, this will be a repeat of the failed 1986 IRCA amnesty all over again, and we’ll be having this same debate in another 10 years or so with tens of millions of more illegal aliens here.

    In the meantime, why do the elites in D.C. refuse to secure the border, refuse to enforce our existing laws, and why does the media like Roll Call blatantly ignore the impact of illegal immigration on working class Americans?

    And will Roll Call report on the recent spike of illegal entries with all this talk of amnesty going on?

    Will Roll Call report on how the Border Patrol rank and file have been shut out of these secretive discussions?

    Will Roll Call report on Charles Schumer’s (now broken) promises he made in the 1986 amnesty debate where he played a key roll?

    Will Roll Call report on how this amnesty, if it passes, will likely increase cynicism of our elected officials?

    Will Roll Call report on the recent GAO report that verifies the Southern Border is still far from secure?

    Will Roll Call report on the billion+ dollars pro-amnesty special interests have spent lobbying on this issue over the past few years?

    How about it, Roll Call?

  • ClaudeinSocal

    Marco Rino strikes again. Maybe he could be like Jeb Bush. I was for it, before I was against it. The dueling John Kerry Jr.

  • Scott

    “We the people” were promised in 1986 that amnesty would be done only once. They lied. They promised to secure our boarders as part of the 1986 plan. They lied again. Our government doesn’t deport 500,000 people who’ve overstayed their visas and court deported – can’t we round them up? They’ve already had a hearing for goodness sakes!
    This isn’t about immigration. it’s about something else and we’re having to demand that our government do what they are Constitutionally OBLIGATED to do. What a shame. Throw the bums out.

  • PDQuig

    There is absolutely no reason to rush into immigration reform. We have been living with the mess for 27 years and we can wait a few more months. We should all question the motives of anybody who wants to jam a bill through. There is not one defensible reason for haste, but there are MANY reasons why those acting in bad faith would seek to railroad a bill through Congress.

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