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Marco Rubio is Playing With Fire on Immigration Vote

July 30, 2014 - 6:00pm
Marco Rubio can be excused if the ghost of John Kerrys presidential ambitions is haunting him this week.

Rubio broke with Senate conservatives on Wednesday by voting to start debate on a proposal to increase humanitarian aid for illegal immigrants by $2.7 billion. Most Republicans in the Senate, including possible 2016 rivals Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, went the other way. So did Democrats expecting major challenges in November, like Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu.

Defending his vote, Rubio said he wanted to move the debate so it can be improved. He also added that he could vote against the bill depending on its final form.

Rubio made two major mistakes here which could come back to bite him if he runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. After Mitt Romney lost, Rubio started off at the head of the pack for the next go-round.

But Rubio got himself in trouble with conservatives and Republican primary voters last year when he spearheaded the Gang of Eights immigration reform package. Conservatives and tea partiers started backing other candidates: Paul, Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, even Romney again.

Rubio has turned to other issues to get back in the mix, attacking Obamacare, being active in foreign policy debates, calling for less spending and taxes, and stressing his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Some of his activities might have helped Rubio shore up his base in Florida where polls show Republicans remain firmly behind him. But they havent helped him at the national level and Rubios latest vote on immigration will only reinforce conservative distrust with him on that issue.

Even if Rubio votes against the final version of the bill, it could be too late. Presidents dont come out of the Senate that often since they can often fall into legislative traps. Rubios reason for wanting to open debate and improve the bill is perfectly valid in the Senate chamber. But his rationale and reasons wont play in the Northern Neck of New Hampshire or out in western Iowa.

Kerry is the perfect example of it. More than a decade after he first said it, Kerrys quote -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it -- remains infamous. But that kind of thing happens in the Capitol as legislators shift their positions on legislation as it evolves and changes.

That kind of nuance simply doesnt work on the campaign trail, though. Rubio has to be very careful how he handles the issue in the days to come as the likes of Paul and Cruz will look to trip him up over it.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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