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Rubio on a comprehensive immigration bill: Not many 'Jeb Bush Republicans in the Senate right now

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media about immigration, after attending a bipartisan meeting in Sen. Susan Collins office, on Capitol Hill January 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded Monday to criticism from former Florida Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (R) that he isn't doing enough to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. In an interview with Politico's Marc Caputo, Rubio claimed that Bush is out of touch with modern political reality, which is that a comprehensive immigration bill that provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States has no realistic chance of passage in the current Senate or of being signed by President Donald Trump.

Rubio also discussed many of the mistakes he believes he made during the course of his participation with the so-called Gang of Eight in 2013.

What did Bush say?

In an interview with USA Today, Bush criticized Rubio for not taking a more public leadership role with respect to passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which has long been a priority for Bush.

Bush criticized Washington in general for failing to make progress on a comprehensive immigration bill, but singled Rubio out for his ire, saying, "God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price. That's the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he's working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful."

How did Rubio respond to Bush?

Rubio criticized Bush for not understanding the current political realities in the Senate and stated that he wasn't interested in grandstanding for a bill that had no chance of passage.

"I understand Jeb’s passion for immigration. But insisting on a path forward on immigration that has zero chances of passing is not political courage. It’s legislative malpractice," Rubio told Caputo.

Rubio further accused Bush of not understanding the significance of Donald Trump's election, or the realities within the Republican caucus in the Senate: "I want to get this problem solved. I’m not interested in impressing people who I believe are in some ways out of touch with the reality that Donald Trump is president and that the people whose votes we need to get this passed don’t agree with Jeb’s or any of this group of people’s views on immigration."

Rubio continued, "There aren't a lot of Jeb Bush Republicans in the Senate right now. I don't mean that disrespectfully. That's just a fact." When asked whether he considered himself a "Jeb Bush Republican," Rubio paused and said, "I'm a Marco Rubio Republican."

What did Rubio say he learned from the Gang of Eight debacle?

For one thing, Rubio says he learned that the entire "Gang of Eight" model of legislation — wherein a group of senators crafts a compromise bill and then attempts to force it through without amendments — won't work on an issue as charged as immigration. Rubio told Caputo that he understands the criticism raised by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who derisively called the Gang of Eight the "masters of the universe" in 2013: "[W]hat he was alluding to and touching on was this sort of resentment on the part of a lot of members on something so important that this little small group of people devise a plan and say it’s good for America and you either take it or leave it."

Rubio said he also realizes that major changes to current immigration policy are impossible for either side right now because of the toxic political environment. Both the White House's plan to eliminate the "diversity lottery" and "chain migration," as well as the Democrats' plan to provide a path to citizenship for the vast majority of illegal immigrants in this country are doomed to failure because there are enough intractable votes to filibuster either plan that they simply won't get done. Rubio believes that there is broad support for a legislative DACA fix, as well as willingness to include additional border security in any DACA fix. Rubio believes that a simple bill should be passed that addresses those two issues and then the rest should be left alone for now.

Rubio also stated that he would not advocate for a bill that did not have the support of the majority of the Republican caucus, which rules out a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship:

That approach is well-represented by Lindsey Graham and others who agree with [Bush] wholeheartedly. They just don’t happen to be the majority of the party that’s in the majority. And they don’t happen to be the views of the president of the United States. You can’t pass legislation unless the majority agrees with it and, in the case of the Senate, unless a supermajority agrees with it.

He also did not sound optimistic that an immigration bill of any kind would get done this year, noting that senators on both sides of the aisle face tremendous pressure from their constituents back home not to compromise.

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