Over at TheWeek.com, I explain how Sen. Marco Rubio missed his moment to lead on immigration reform, as the final Senate deal got done without him and he was unable to woo conservative opinion leaders despite his best efforts.
But I also note Rubio can still play a big role getting the bill through House, by forcefully debunking smears circulating in right-wing circles, and explaining to his fellow conservatives that anti-immigration forces are lying to them.
Rubio has actually begun to do this. In one of his final Senate floor speeches before the recent vote, Rubio said:
…opposition from many conservatives has grown significantly in the last few weeks.
Why? Because they have heard that “the Secretary of Homeland Security can just ignore the border requirement.” But this is not true. The department does have discretion on where to build the fence, but not on the amount of fencing it must build. At the end of the day, 700 miles of pedestrian fencing must be built.
They’ve also heard that “the Secretary of Homeland Security can just waive the radars, drones, ground sensors and other technology required in the bill.” But that is not true. The Secretary can always add more to the plan, but the list of border security measures we mandate in the legislation is the minimum that must be implemented.
Some oppose it because they have heard that “a future Congress can just defund all the security measures.” But that is not true. The money is built into the bill. Unlike previous border security laws, it doesn’t leave it dependent on future funding.
They oppose the bill because they have heard that it creates a taxpayer subsidy for people “to buy a car or a scooter.” That is not true. Nothing in this bill allows that.
And they oppose the bill because they have heard that last Friday “a brand new 1,100 page bill that no one had read is now what is before the Senate.” That is not true.
This is the exact same bill that has been publicly available for ten weeks. The main additions to it are about 120 pages of border security requirements.
Politifact has taken up some of the smears that Rubio details. The “scooter” lie distorts a provision in the youth jobs program added to the immigration bill which would help participants with transportation to their jobs. The bill gives the Homeland Security discretion on how to implement border security measures, but not the authority to ignore them. And the border security money gets spent immediately.
That Rubio and his fellow pro-immigration Republicans are in the position of debunking right-wing smears is, on one level, delicious.
Rubio was quite willing to spread smears about ObamaCare in recent years, falsely claiming ObamaCare would cut Medicare when it actually saves money through efficiencies, and wrongly charging it would raise taxes which do “not discriminate between rich and poor.”
And why wouldn’t he? Twisting the facts of Obama’s policies beyond recognition has been the standard operating procedure for the Republican Party for the last five years.
But now the class of saner Republicans desperately wants to pass a bipartisan immigration bill because, as Sen. Lindsey Graham put it, “if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016. We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party…”
Which means instead of making up stuff to stifle a bill, suddenly these Republicans must tell the truth to pass a bill.
And that means calling out their fellow conservative travelers on their usual tactics.
Rubio has begun to do this, but needs to take his truth-telling tour from the Senate floor to conservative media platforms. He needs conservatives to hear how they are being manipulated and deceived in order to blunt Tea Party pressure on the House.
One can only hope that for Rubio and his pro-immigration allies to walk the path of honesty could have a longer lasting effect on how the Republican Party operates. Once Republicans see how their reliance on falsehoods has damaged their ability to govern constructively and salvage themselves politically, they may be compelled to recalibrate their posture and move inside the boundaries of legitimate debate.
The first step requires standing up to some of their own, and that is a hard step to take. But it’s either that or the “demographic death spiral.”