A month ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was considered by many to be the GOP front-runner for president in 2016. Now, even if he secures the nomination, Republicans may very likely support him only half-heartedly like they did moderate Republican Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, a sure recipe for losing the presidential election.
On June 27th, the "Gang of Eight," composed of Rubio and other senators supporting the relaxation of immigration laws, forced through an immigration reform bill so radical even Jeb Bush has criticized it. Less than one-third of Senate Republicans voted for it. S. 744 would award legal status and a path to citizenship to 11 million illegal immigrants. The Gang of Eight is composed of four liberal Democrat Senators and four Republican Senators, including McCain and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), liberal Republicans known for siding with the Democrats on immigration.
Rubio isn't just pushing for moderate immigration reform, such as that envisioned by Clint Bolick and Jeb Bush in their new book Immigration Wars. Their plan for dealing with illegal immigration does not include a path to citizenship, and cuts down on chain migration, which currently accounts for two-thirds of all legal immigration. Rubio's bill goes much further, signing onto the most radical Democrat proposals.
S. 744 gives employers financial incentives to hire illegal immigrants who have been granted amnesty - over Americans. Employers with over 50 employees are required to offer health insurance; otherwise they're subjected to fines of $3000 per employee. Newly legalized immigrants wouldn't be eligible for subsidies on the Obamacare exchange for 13 years, so employers could avoid fines and offering healthcare if they hired them instead of Americans. The Weekly Standard asked five senators if they were aware of this provision in the 1,200 page bill, and they said they had no idea.
Another troubling provision in the bill allows a safe harbor for criminal illegal immigrants. For two and a half years, law enforcement will be restricted from deportations while illegal immigrants are encouraged to come forward and apply for amnesty. The only exception to this is serious criminals; those with one felony conviction or three serious misdemeanor convictions.
The burden on taxpayers is considerable. The bill permits the U.S. attorney general to provide government-funded legal counsel to illegal immigrants. Those on the path to citizenship are not required to have jobs if they are attending school, in job training, taking care of a child, over 60, or unemployed through no fault of their own. This is a huge exception to Rubio's declaration that legalized immigrants will "have to be able to support themselves so they will never become a public charge."
At one point, Rubio circulated a memo that listed 21 problems with the bill, indicating he realized it had become too much of an amnesty. Rubio has admitted it is a flawed bill. An anonymous source told the Associated Press that Rubio confessed in a closed door meeting, "The message was not, 'Listen, I've come up with a really good bill that we need to support it,' the source said. "It was, 'This is a terribly flawed bill but it moves the ball forward and over the next weeks and months, it will move ever rightward.'"
Unlike Rubio's bill, the immigration reform suggested by Clint Bolick and Jeb Bush wouldn't expand "chain migration," which gives the relatives of immigrant's priority to enter the country over others. Chain migration results in a disproportionate number of low-skilled immigrants. Under their plan, non-citizen immigrants could only bring their spouse and children; not their cousins, grandparents, adult children and siblings as was implemented under Obama in 2009. Bringing grandparents adds a huge burden to the already overloaded Medicare and Medicaid programs. Instead, Bolick and Bush would extend more H-1B visas to high-skilled immigrants.
Rubio has flip-flopped on the issue, adding to conservatives' ire. In 2010, during a debate on the campaign trail, he accused his Republican primary opponent Charlie Crist of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants. "'Earned path to citizenship' is basically code for amnesty," Rubio said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already said it plans on running attack ads against the Democrats who voted for S. 744. Prominent conservatives like Glenn Beck are shunning Rubio. Beck said on his radio show, "What a piece of garbage this guy is." On the other hand, liberal Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham gushed, "He's proven he's not an ideologue."
The House is set to vote on the bill next, and can make important changes to it. There are already some border security provisions in the bill. But if they are like provisions in previous bills, it would be foolhardy to expect them to have any teeth. There are still hundreds of miles along the U.S.-Mexico border where there is no fence, or the fence is easy to climb over. The $4.5 billion designated for border security is directed to businesses that are some of the largest federal campaign contributors. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a watchdog of government waste, expressed his concerns over this quid pro quo, saying, "Taxpayer funds should enhance border security, not provide border stimulus for contractors."
There is also pork in the bill unrelated to immigration, such as benefits for Alaska's fishing industry and aid for Las Vegas tourism. Members of the Gang of Eight made sure visas went to reward industries in their home states. Sen. Lindsey Graham obtained a hefty number of work visas for the meat industry in South Carolina, and Sen. Rubio obtained extra visas for workers in the cruise ship and ski industries, both key industries in his home state of Florida.
Rubio received a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union during his first two years in the Senate; outside of this bill, he has an excellent record. If the House can successfully tone down some of the most radical provisions, such as limiting chain migration, and cut out a lot of the pork, Rubio's credibility with the conservative base might be saved. It is highly unlikely the Republican-controlled House will preserve the bill in the form it is in now. Conservative Republican Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) warned that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would lose his position as speaker if he brings the bill to the floor without the Republican majority supporting it. If they cannot change it, Jeb Bush will surprisingly become a better presidential candidate for conservatives.