Rubio Flips on Immigration, Attacks Trump for Doing the Same Thing

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa
Ineffective Trump insulter Marco Rubio. Photo: BRIAN FRANK/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Donald Trump wants to round up 11 million people and magically construct a 2,000-mile border wall, but somehow Marco Rubio wound up looking foolish for criticizing that policy. When asked about the popularity of Trump’s immigration stance in a Fox News interview on Wednesday morning, Rubio decided to cast Trump as a flip-flopper rather than pointing out the gaping holes in his immigration proposal. “Donald was a supporter of amnesty and the DREAM Act, he changed his position on those issues just to run for president,” Rubio said.

Immigration is a dicey issue for Rubio. Two years ago, he co-authored a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, which included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but after it failed to get a vote in the House, the senator backed away from his own bill, and said he supports a piecemeal approach to reform. According to Rubio, that’s a strategy shift, not a flip-flop. Regardless, he compounded the awkwardness of his Trump attack just a few hours later when he revealed that as president he would end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation, even if no other form of immigration reform has been passed.

This program’s now been around for three years and we haven’t signed it by now … we’re not going to extend the program,” Rubio said on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. “DACA is going to end. The ideal way for it to end would be it’s replaced by a reform system that creates an alternative but if it doesn’t it will end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States.”

In April, Rubio said that while he doesn’t want the policy to be around forever, he wants to enact other reforms before repealing the executive action. “I don’t think we can immediately revoke that,” Rubio told Univision’s Jorge Ramos. “I think it will have to end at some point and I hope it will end because of some reforms to the immigration laws. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States. But I’m not calling for it to be revoked tomorrow or this week or right away.” 

But a lot can change in seven months. (For instance, in the same interview, Rubio told Ramos, “not even the most vociferous opponents of immigration reform are offering ideas about rounding up and deporting 12 million people.”) The conservative attacks on Rubio’s immigration stance intensified this week after Breitbart unearthed the old video on Monday.

I don’t know why anyone would want to have someone who is not going to enforce the law as the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States,” Chris Christie said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “Now maybe Marco doesn’t believe that the executive order is illegal, and if he doesn’t he should say that. And, he’s welcome to that opinion, obviously there’s lots of Democrats who would agree with that. But, he needs to say that.”

Trump added:

Rubio says he’s still open to creating a pathway to citizenship (though not during his presidency), but the U.S. needs to focus on securing the border before pushing other immigration reforms (he’s hazy on what exactly that means). Several Hispanic groups objected to Rubio hardening his immigration stance even further. “Rubio has been a leader on immigration reform in the past, but when leading on the issue is no longer politically expedient he is abandoning his community for the purpose of his own ambitions,” said Latino Victory Fund president Cristóbal Alex.

Adopting a more extreme immigration stance for political purposes while criticizing others for doing the same might seem hypocritical, but maybe Rubio is just taking a cue from John McCain. In July, the Arizona senator made fun of Rubio for backing away from his immigration bill, though McCain distanced himself from that bill, and his own comprehensive immigration bill in 2006.