Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview that if the press is “looking for friction and conflict between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, they’re barking up the wrong tree.”
The first-term senator was responding to news reports that he and the former Florida governor are bumping heads on the immigration issue — especially after Bush wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal that any effort to address immigration on a piecemeal basis is “short-sighted and self-defeating.”
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Rubio had been on record as arguing for a "piecemeal" approach — one in which different elements of broad immigration reform would be taken up as a series of bills, rather than one comprehensive piece of legislation.
Adding to the drama is that both Rubio and Bush are on the short list of GOP favorites for a presidential run in 2016.
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But Rubio told Newsmax on Monday that the bipartisan immigration plan announced on Capitol Hill Monday is neither piecemeal nor based on amnesty. He was among the senators who introduced the plan — and many of his ideas to reform immigration that he has been discussing in recent weeks were included in it.
“I don’t think I’d ever call for a piecemeal approach,” Rubio said. “Immigration needs to be dealt with comprehensively. I just don’t know it should be dealt with in one comprehensive bill.
“I’ve always said that maybe the better way to do this is to file four or five separate bills," he explained. "For example, one bill that modernizes legal immigration, one bill that does enforcement, and one bill that deals with the 11 million people who are already here illegally.
“Piecemeal, in my mind, and what he was talking about was, only doing, for example, a high-tech bill and not addressing anything else. Or only doing an enforcement part of the bill and not doing anything else. Or only dealing with the 11 million people and not doing anything else. That would be piecemeal, where you only deal with some parts of the problem but not every part of the problem.
“But this is really a tactical issue: whether you do the comprehensive package of three or four bills or whether you do one big bill that encompasses all of this,” Rubio added. “At the end of the day, what really matters is whether it takes care of the problem.”
The principles outlined in the plan introduced on Monday include:
- Providing for stronger border security. “It’s critical that we get operational control of the border,” Rubio tells Newsmax.
- Strengthening workplace enforcement and the nation’s visa-tracking system. “For both the entry and the exits of visitor visas, because 40 percent of our undocumented immigrants entered the country illegally and overstayed their visas," Rubio says.
- Developing this system for those already in the country illegally for at least five years: Requiring extensive background checks; facing deportation if found to have a criminal history; paying all back taxes and fines; being ineligible for public assistance. “Then, they will be allowed to apply for the legal immigration system, meaning the green-card process,” he adds.
“We have to have a legal immigration system that works. We have to modernize that system that has to work for the 21st century,” Rubio tells Newsmax. “As a sovereign country, we have a right to have immigration laws and we have a right to enforce them.”
The plan introduced on Monday came under fire immediately by several Republicans and conservatives as an amnesty program.
That’s not the case, Rubio said.
“Amnesty is the forgiveness of something and nothing is being forgiven. If you violated the immigration laws of the United States, you’re going to pay a fine. You’re going to pay back taxes. You’re not going to qualify for any federal benefits. You’re going to have to wait in probationary status for a significant period of time — and then, after all of that, the only thing you get is the opportunity to apply for the same green-card process that anybody else would get.
“Amnesty, in my mind, is that we basically forgive what you’ve done wrong and let you start over,” Rubio added. “And that’s not the case here. All we’re giving people here is the opportunity to earn, through a series of steps and measures, the opportunity to file for a green card the way they should’ve done from the beginning.”
He also expects opposition from Democrats, as well as from members of his own party.
“There’s certainly going to be people that are going to oppose it, not just in the Republican Party. There may be some in the Democratic Party, because they think the pathway is too tough or the enforcement mechanisms are too difficult.
“What we have now are principles — principles that enjoy the support of the enormous majority of Americans in both parties,” Rubio added. “Now we have to come up with a law, and that law has details to it — and that’s where reasonable minds are going to disagree about whether something is adequate or not, and that work needs to be done.
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“I can’t really expect for many of my colleagues to support something until they’ve seen the details of it. The details matter. One thing is that this law provides for enforcement, another thing is to see whether it really does or not. And that’s the work we’re going to have to do to get buy-ins.
“And, of course, this working group we put together, this bipartisan working group, all this group can do is be the starting point in this debate,” Rubio said. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done and a lot of details yet to be established.”
Also in his wide-ranging Newsmax interview, Rubio said that:
- While the announced program reflects some bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, “I would caution everyone from over-exuberance. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and there’s still a lot of points of contention in terms of what the details of the legislation should look like.”
- The Republican Party will attract more Hispanics by appealing to “our principles of free enterprise and limited government. We have a lot of work to do to explain to the American people, to a whole new generation of Americans, why limited government and free enterprise has made us exceptional and why big government will rob us of that.”
- He, himself, is focused on better serving his Florida constituents right now rather than eyeing a presidential run in 2016. “There’s some important issues we’re dealing with here. What I have learned is that if you do a good job at whatever your job is now, you always have opportunities to do different things later — and they may be things you never envisioned, perhaps things you never could’ve planned for.”
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