As conservatives sort through the wreckage from Marco Rubio’s close encounter with Chris Christie the other night, some are debating the question of what Rubio would do as president about illegal immigration. It’s a vitally important question and a fair one, given that Rubio has been all over the place on this issue.
Kevin Williamson at NR says that anti-amnesty conservatives have nothing to fear from a President Rubio. But Mickey Kaus says we “can count” on Rubio to sign amnesty legislation similar to the Gang of Eight bill if he’s elected.
Neither view persuades me.
Williamson relies on the fact that, in all likelihood, Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. House. He writes:
[The House] is going to be a conservative one backed up by a lot of conservatives in the Senate, and our hypothetical President Rubio is never going to sign that amnesty bill because Congress isn’t ever going to send it to him, even if he were so inclined – which I don’t think he is.
But Paul Ryan presumably will be Speaker, and Ryan backs amnesty and path to citizenship. He pledged not to push for this in 2016, but thereafter all bets are off.
Does this means, as Kaus claims, that “the combination of President Rubio and Speaker Ryan [will] quickly pass an amnesty bill that (like the Gang of 8) contains only the most chimerical guarantees of new enforcement measures”? No.
I can imagine Ryan, a principled guy, defying a large portion of his caucus and risking his Speakership to pass amnesty legislation if he believes Rubio will sign it. However, it’s hard to imagine Rubio risking his presidency (at least in the first term) by signing, or showing willingness to sign, an amnesty bill.
Rubio couldn’t govern without the support of the conservative GOP base. To defy something like half of the Republican members of Congress and the will of most Republican voters would doom his presidency.
This would be true even if Rubio hadn’t pledged to secure the border before doing anything for those who are here illegally. But Rubio has so pledged. To begin his presidency by breaking a key promise to conservatives seems almost unthinkable.
A more realistic concern is that Rubio-Ryan will enact border security legislation, getting Democratic support by assuring them that amnesty will follow, and later push for amnesty based on false or inflated claims that the border has been secured. But even this move would jeopardize his presidency. Only if the border actually is secure will Rubio likely support amnesty. In this scenario, amnesty, though undesirable, isn’t the end of the world in my view, unless it carries a path to citizenship.
I agree with Mark Krikorian who says “the odds that [Rubio and Ryan would] try [amnesty] again are greater than we should be comfortable with.” Any odds greater than zero make me feel uncomfortable, and deep into a Rubio presidency, the odds go up.
But the odds I’m fixated on now are the odds of a Democrat winning the White House. If Rubio is the GOP’s best bet to prevent this, then maybe I can tolerate the low odds that he will at some point revive the push for amnesty.