Rubio Won’t Vote for Rubio’s Immigration Bill

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I don't know anything about this "Rubio" guy, but whatever he negotiated doesn't bind me. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

The prospects for immigration reform have looked extremely bullish, except now Marco Rubio, the lead negotiator, is saying he plans to oppose the Gang of Eight bill:

Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday, Rubio said the Senate should “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he was working with other senators on amendments to do just that.

Then Hewitt asked: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”

Rubio answered, “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no.”

Wait, that isn't how negotiations work. In a negotiation, you don't get everything you want, but you haggle to get something that both sides consider better than no deal at all. Then you have to stick to the deal.

And not that long ago, Rubio was definitely saying the deal was better than the status quo:

“I just hope that I can convince people that leaving things the way they are now is much worse than approaching it the way we’ve outlined,” Rubio said on ABC News’ “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Is the deal exactly what Rubio wanted? No. It wasn't exactly what anybody wanted. But, again, that's called "negotiation." That's why Democrats had to vote for utterly obnoxious provisions excluding gay couples. They didn't like the things they voted for, but were under the impression that both sides were bound by the terms of the deal. Now Rubio is saying only they're bound by it.

The question for Democrats is, at what point do they insist that a deal's a deal? The dynamic here is that Republicans have a mainly political objective, and Democrats a mainly policy objective. The Republicans do want some changes to the law that would benefit businesses, but mainly they want to take immigration off the table as an issue in order to give themselves an opening to court Latino voters. Democrats are willing to take the issue off the table in order to get a substantive policy accomplishment.

The most attractive resolution from the Republican point of view is to get Democrats to support a very weak reform. That enables them to accomplish the political goal at minimum cost of angering their own base. But at some point, the policy gain for Democrats is low enough that it isn't worth surrendering the political advantage.

Wonkblog argues that the changes to the bill Rubio is now demanding would bring its value close to zero. If that's the case, the Democrats' strategy is pretty easy. They need to hold firm to the Gang of Eight deal and dare Rubio to vote against a bill he has publicly championed.