How Marco Rubio Avoids the Amnesty Trap

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April 18 2013 10:09 PM

Who Said Anything About Amnesty?

Not Marco Rubio. The senator can defend immigration reform all day without using that loaded word.

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“I think about them every day,” says Rubio. He heads in to start the interviews. No. 1: syndicated host Mike Siegel, who kindly lectures the senator about how much he remembers about the 1986 deal. “I was in ninth grade,” says Rubio—a favorite talking point. Siegel pushes Rubio onto more topics he’s already come up with multiple answers for, until finally asking about amnesty. What’s wrong with self-deportation?

“I understand your point on that,” says Rubio. “But I do not believe people in the United States are going to sustain a system of stopping people at traffic stops, identifying them as illegal—the human-interest stories on it are not sustainable.” Anyway, he’s not for amnesty.

“The amnesty is staying in this country,” says Siegel.

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“Again, amnesty implies that there are no consequences for doing something wrong,” says Rubio. “And that’s not accurate here.”

Rubio wraps up and carries his jacket to the next interview, a thunder-voiced Oregon conservative named Lars Larson.

“Who was the politician that said, ‘I’ll only be out of office if I get caught with a dead girl or a live boy?’ ” asks Larson. “Our mayor, the last mayor of Portland, got caught with a live boy, and he survived two recall elections. Because he was gay.”

“All right,” says Rubio.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” says Larson.

The interview goes better than that—Larson announces that “I’m gonna call it amnesty” when he talks about the Rubio plan, and Rubio politely differs. Why is the senator willing to provisionally recognize some immigrants even before the border’s secure? “I want to know who’s here now, and I want to freeze the problem in place,” says Rubio. “I don’t want the problem to get bigger.”

Interview by interview, he ably defends amnesty from the charge that it is, in fact, amnesty. Rubio’s gauntlet only ends when he glides past Steve King—he’s still there, hearing the stories of activists whose family members were killed by illegal immigrants—and talks to Humphries. He’s even louder than Larson, and lucky for Rubio he dispenses with amnesty quickly to ask if Democrats would go along with a plan that doesn’t win them new voters.

“I can already hear the Democrats’ argument,” says Humphries. “Taxation without representation! I want these people to vote! I want my Democrats in there!”

“That’s the law right now,” says Rubio.

There are no callers, no weird hypotheticals, no more banter. Rubio has gotten through the immigration bill’s launch day and wrenched the discussion on the right past amnesty, over to his own terms.