On the surface, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have virtually the same profile. Both descend from Cuban migrants, both are articulate and photogenic, and both rode the Tea Party wave to defeat Establishment-backed candidates en route to the U.S. Senate.
Now, they’re vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
But on the flashpoint issue of immigration, and what to do about 12 million aliens in the country illegally, the differences between the two could not be more stark, though a cloud of confusion has emerged from the Rubio camp in recent weeks over exactly who supports what.
Rubio has attempted to revise history and downplay his role as the leading proponent of a 2013 amnesty bill, while he and his supporters have attacked Cruz — who says he has never been and will never be in favor of legalizing illegal immigrants — as flip-flopping and even outright lying on the issue.
Despite the murkiness of the conversation, a clear look at history shows that the respective roles of Rubio and Cruz in the so-called “Gang of Eight” pathway to citizenship bill of 2013 reveals clearly that Rubio, of Florida, viewed amnesty as his ticket to political stardom while Cruz, of Texas, has staunchly opposed it at every turn.
During his Senate tenure, Rubio’s drive to present himself as a Republican more accommodating toward Hispanics voters led him to join forces with liberal Democrats Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, to draft and successfully push through the Senate a pathway to citizenship plan for illegal immigrants. The plan, known as the Gang of Eight Bill after the group of four Republicans and four Democrats involved in its creation, stands as the only significant accomplishment of Rubio’s single term in the Senate.
But Rubio’s role in the Gang of Eight has become a major liability for him on the campaign trail as backlash against amnesty has intensified among conservative voters. Even though he sponsored the bill and voted for its passage just two and a half years ago, he has slowly walked back his support for it, calling its provisions flawed and a product of compromise.
But Schumer has disputed this narrative, claiming that Rubio was the driving force behind the legislation, which would have also expanded visas for both high- and low-skill immigrants entering the U.S., and saying that he was “totally committed” and that his “fingerprints are all over that bill.”
It’s possible, if not likely, that Schumer made these comments to stonewall Rubio’s presidential ambitions. But even Republicans involved in the process say Rubio abandoned conservative principles to gain a political win. Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., accuse Rubio of forging a secret agreement with Schumer and the other Democrats in the Gang of Eight to kill off amendments proposed by conservatives in the Judiciary Committee that might have harmed the bill’s chances of ultimately passing the Senate.
If Rubio’s degree of zealotry for the Gang of Eight bill isn’t revealing enough of his views on amnesty, a glimpse at the actual text of the bill and the votes he made to secure its passage are even more indicative.
The bill would have created a new legal status for immigrants already in the country illegally and an eventual pathway to citizenship for them. Included in the citizenship process would be new low-skill immigrants entering on an agricultural workers program.
To ensure passage in the Senate in June 2013, Rubio voted against several Republican amendments that mirror his current rhetoric. He opposed proposals to authorize building 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border and to require the Obama administration to demonstrate it had secured the border for at least six months before any legalization of immigrants could begin. He also shot down an amendment stipulating that a biometric visa identity system first authorized by Congress nearly 20 years earlier be fully implemented before new legalization could commence.
These votes are direct contradictions of more recent Rubio statements from the campaign trail emphasizing that securing the borders should preempt any discussion of fixing the immigration system.
In addition to revising his own stance on the Gang of Eight Bill, Rubio has also attacked Cruz — who was instrumental in ultimately derailing the bill — as supporting legalization of illegal immigrants, pointing to an amendment he offered that would have stripped out the citizenship component of the bill in favor of just legalization.
“I think Ted Cruz needs to be clear about what his stance is today on that, but I can tell you what it’s been in the past,” Rubio said recently. “He strongly supported legalizing people that were in this country illegally.”
But what Rubio’s punch leaves out is that Cruz’s amendment was essentially a tongue-in-cheek measure designed the kill the enter package. Because the only major difference between a legal permanent resident and a citizen is that citizens can vote. Removing the pathway to citizenship element from the bill would have scuppered the Democrats’ primary motive for extending citizenship to illegal immigrants, which is to add millions of new voters to their ranks. Roughly 7 out of 10 Hispanic voters lean Democratic.
Thus, Rubio’s charge that Cruz is being hypocritical has little weight, especially considering how far he has swung in the two and a half years since the Gang of Eight affair. Even worse are his attempts to muddy the waters on the issue by making statements that there just “isn’t that big a difference” between his and Cruz’s stances on immigration.