WASHINGTON — Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the architects of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration plan, is backing off his earlier support and reverting to his original preference for a piecemeal approach to solving the issue.
Support for comprehensive legislation is simply not there, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said, citing a lack of allies among Republicans in the House of Representatives.
“In order to make progress, we need to be realistic in our expectations,” Conant said in an email. “An ‘all or nothing’ strategy on immigration reform would result in nothing.”
The Senate passed a comprehensive plan this summer that would provide many of the 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally with a path to citizenship. But the House GOP leadership has refused to take up the bill and has been focused instead on separate pieces of legislation that address issues individually.
The debate had been sidelined for months, but now that the latest debt-ceiling crisis is over, immigration is back in the spotlight. President Barack Obama pressed last week for renewed talks, and 600 conservative leaders are in Washington this week to call on Congress to find a compromise.
But the prolonged government-shutdown fight over the health care law and the debt ceiling left many bruised egos and further soured relations between the House and Senate, as well as between the two major parties, which will make finding any sort of agreement even more difficult.
In one sign of the challenges ahead, before the shutdown two more House Republicans, John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas, walked away from efforts to draft bipartisan comprehensive legislation in the House.
Rubio was once seen as the true conservative who could possibly lead the tea party to the White House in 2016. He’s still considered a contender, but his support for the immigration plan hurt his standing with many conservatives, who’ve accused him of flip-flopping.
In a 2010 debate, Rubio said an “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.” But later, when announcing his support for the comprehensive Senate plan, Rubio said it wasn’t amnesty because immigrants would have to pay fines and back taxes and must undergo a criminal background check.
By retreating now, Rubio is embracing his original preference for a series of bills that address immigration. Conant said the senator had put aside that preference in an effort to find a bipartisan solution.
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who’s also part of the so-called Gang of Eight – a bipartisan group of senators that sought an immigration compromise – have encouraged House members to introduce a bill that at least would bring the House and Senate together in conference, where they could hash out an agreement.
But many conservative members don’t want to vote on any immigration matter, fearing that the final legislation worked out in conference might include a path to citizenship. Conant said those concerns had kept Congress from making progress on passing individual bills.
“We should take that option off the table, so that we can begin to move on the things we agree on,” he said.
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