IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rubio stops hedging, takes the plunge

For months, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has played an awkward game on comprehensive immigration reform. On the one hand, Rubio has been a high-profile member of the "Gang of Eight," helping negotiate the details of the legislation. On the other hand, the Florida Republican signaled his willingness to oppose the legislation he's ostensibly helping write. Rubio would say he likes his own bill, but wouldn't commit to it.

Many of those involved in the process were growing weary of Rubio straddling the fence. I heard someone joke last week that the senator was acting as if he were "a little bit pregnant" on the policy.

That phase appears to be over.

Senator Marco Rubio offered an extraordinary endorsement of legislation to overhaul the nation's badly strained immigration system on Sunday when, after holding back for weeks, he appeared on no fewer than seven television talk shows to explain and defend a plan that he said would be "a net positive for the country, now and in the future." [...]

Mr. Rubio's one-man media blitz on Sunday was a striking show of confidence for a lawmaker who only weeks ago had been a voice of caution, a counterweight to the optimism being expressed by others in the group.

On Sunday, by discussing the plan on the five major network talk shows and on the Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision, he was clearly signaling that the plan was ready for scrutiny by the public and by Congress, and that he was prepared to throw his full weight behind it -- perhaps, at the same time, risking his own prospects for a widely expected presidential run in 2016.

Whatever the far-right senator's ambitions, this was an important development in the larger effort.

In much the same way as Sen. Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) support for background checks makes gun-safety legislation more viable, Rubio's wholehearted backing for immigration reform signals to both parties that success is more likely. So long as Rubio was looking for a way out, stakeholders planned for the possibility that the bipartisan process would stumble badly, and the only "Gang of Eight" member likely to seek national office would walk away, undermining the plan.

But with Rubio taking the plunge, finally taking on a leadership role, reform proponents have reason for optimism.

Incidentally, in case it's not obvious, the reason Rubio hedged for so long is that he knows comprehensive immigration reform will be unpopular among far-right activists, who ordinarily love the Floridian's right-wing voting record. The GOP's radicalized base decides who wins primaries, and Rubio was reluctant to defy their wishes, even on an issue he appears to care about.

That said, the Republican also realizes that it might be tough for a senator to seek national office despite never having passed a significant piece of legislation. As a consequence, he's taking a chance, and giving the bill a boost in the process.

Postscript: It's a silly point, hardly worth mentioning, but did you happen to catch Rubio's interview on ABC yesterday? Check out the transcript and count how many times he says "first of all." Spoiler alert: he was asked eight questions, and he used "first of all" in response to seven of them. We all have our verbal tics -- I know I have plenty -- but this pointless observation struck me as amusing.