I wrote here about Marco Rubio’s vulnerability on the issue of immigration. Ted Cruz, I contended, is especially well-positioned to exploit Rubio’s vulnerability.
The Cruz campaign has, in fact, started to attack Rubio for sponsoring the Gang of Eight amnesty/path to citizenship legislation of 2013. And Rubio has fired back.
Figuring that the best defense is a good offense, Rubio told reporters, “I don’t think our positions are dramatically different; Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally.” As Eliana Johnson and Alexis Levinson explain, Rubio was referring to was Cruz’s introduction, during the debate over the Gang of Eight bill, of an amendment that would have removed the language in the bill that granted citizenship to those here illegally but nonetheless allowed them to remain in the country with legal status.
I almost fell out of my chair when I read about Rubio’s argument. First, there is a “dramatic difference” between allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. with legal status and, additionally, granting them a path to citizenship, as Rubio wanted to do.
Second, and more importantly, the Cruz amendment Rubio referred to was a “poison pill,” intended to sabotage Rubio’s handiwork. Mark Krikorian, as firm an opponent of legalization as I know of, says “it was a ploy to try to stop the bill, in the hopes that it might pass with Republican votes but then turn off enough Democrats to kill the overall bill.” Krikorian adds, “it didn’t work, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried the amendment thing in his position.”
Andy McCarthy has more on the Cruz poison pill. He notes that what Cruz tried to do to kill the Gang of Eight legislation is similar to what Rubio tried to do to kill the Iran nuclear deal. The analogy may not be perfect — unlike legalization, Rubio’s poison pill, demanding that Iran recognize Israel, would have been palatable standing alone — but McCarthy’s point stands. (He offers a different analogy in Rubio’s willingness to abide abortions in cases of rape and incest because, without those exceptions, there is no current political possibility of getting anti-abortion legislation enacted).
The problem for Cruz is that the “poison pill” argument may not be easy for the average voter to understand. But Cruz is probably a good enough debater to explain it. In any event, unlike Rubio, Cruz never supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
To me, Rubio’s attempt to lump himself together with Cruz on immigration reform reminds of what I observed during the 2013 debate over immigration — this guy will argue almost anything.