By David M. Drucker
April 1, 2013
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 letterto 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.
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