Break times over for Marco Rubio as immigration reform gets ready to move back into the political spotlight, but he might have a new strategy in dealing with the issue which remains unpopular with Republicans.
In the first half of the year, Rubio was the public face of the Gang of Eight on immigration reform. Rubio was everywhere on it, from the usual round of Sunday morning talk shows to the weeknight shows on Fox News.
But after the Gang of Eights bill passed the Senate and the House did nothing with it, Rubio turned his focus to bashing Obamacare. Rubio made the rounds on the same shows, this time calling for defunding Obamacare.
Theres a reason for that. Rubio started off the year as one of the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. But, the more Rubio hit the airwaves to plug immigration reform, the more his 2016 numbers started dropping. The likes of Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul leapfrogged Rubio in the polls.
Rubio kept pace with Cruz, Paul and Paul Ryan in voting against Harry Reids deal with Mitch McConnell to blow up the debt ceiling cap and end the government shutdown, and once again Rubio hit the television shows. Between that and his war against Obamacare, Rubio was starting to hit his stride to build bridges with Republicans.
But Rubio is about to be forced to deal with immigration reform again. In a nationally televised news event on Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said now that the shutdown is over and the debt ceiling stalemate ended for the moment, it was time to turn to other issues. Obama said immigration reform was one such issue. Speaking in front of the White House on Thursday morning, Obama repeated that immigration reform was an issue that needed attention.
This is bad news for Rubios presidential ambitions and he was asked about immigration reform on Fox News on Thursday. Rubio tried to find a balance between supporting immigration reform while not saying he would work with Obama on the issue, which would hurt him with the tea party and conservatives in 2016.
You have been one of the leading proponents of immigration reform in the Senate. Has the White House contacted you? Jon Scott from Fox News asked Rubio. And will you work with them on some kind of immigration reform?
Look, immigration remains a big deal in this country that needs to be addressed, Rubio said. The Senate has passed a bill. The House will now consider it. And we need to give them the time and space to figure out what they can support. I do think it is important that we be realistic about what the House can support and what they are working on. I think there are areas where a vast majority of Americans agree on: the need to have a legal immigration system that works; the need to enforce our existing laws.
Rubio tried out a new tactic, insisting Obama and Democrats cant be trusted after their roles in the shutdown and the debt ceiling.
There are other areas that are going to be more difficult to find consensus on, quite frankly, even more difficult now, given the lack of trust in government and the way that this White House and the Democrats have behaved over the last three weeks," Rubio said. We cannot ignore that; that is going to be a factor moving forward in all this. But lets give the House an opportunity to see what, if anything, they can support with regard to that. And then there will be a further conversation about it. But I certainly think the presidents behavior over the last three weeks has made it harder, not easier.
Rubio will be hard-pressed to get to the right of Paul and Cruz on the issue. Mitt Romney was able to cut off Newt Gingrichs and Rick Perrys right flanks on immigration last time out. As immigration reform resurfaces, Rubio will need to tune his message. For the moment, though, Rubio is betting conservatives are madder with Obama than they are with him on immigration reform.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.