Marco Rubio was once a key player in a Senate immigration deal, but not this time

Marco Rubio on Friday January 19, 2018 voted in favor of a budget bill that excludes Dreamers after much pressure from President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON – As lawmakers grapple with the complex issue of immigration and the fate of nearly 800,000 “DREAMers,” one voice seems conspicuously missing from the effort: Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Florida Republican was an original member of the “Gang of Eight,” the bipartisan group of senators that crafted the last comprehensive immigration bill in 2013. It passed the Senate but died when the GOP-controlled House refused to take it up.

But Rubio has not been involved in the latest immigration overhaul effort which is now starting to take shape on Capitol Hill at the prodding of President Trump.

Five of the original “Gang of Eight,” and one new Republican senator, are now the focus of attention on Capitol Hill and they announced Thursday they have the framework of a deal. Members of the group presented an outline to President Trump Thursday, who did not endorse the plan.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said there is no deal yet, but "we still think we can get there." It is also not clear House Republicans are interested in accepting the work of a bipartisan Senate working group.

“We have a proposal in principle that we’re sharing with our colleagues and I think there’s gonna be a lot of interest," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who went to the White House Thursday. "I think that will matter to the president."

Rubio downplays his absence from the various groups working on the issue, pointing out he does not sit on the Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration legislation. And he’s encouraged others are getting involved, in hopes that it forges a broader solution both parties can get behind.

“I’m glad that there are some new voices involved in this,” he told reporters Wednesday, pointing to GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina who had been in some negotiations, though are not part of the bipartisan group of six. “That’s a positive development.”

What Rubio didn’t mention was the heat he took from Tea Party stalwarts for getting involved in a bill four years ago that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The effort landed him on the cover of Time Magazine with the heading “The Republican Savior,” no doubt further rankling conservatives.

Some of those conservative activists never forgave him even after he endorsed a border-security-first approach proposed in the House, saying his support of what they viewed as “amnesty” in the Senate bill was a betrayal they wouldn’t forget.

When he ran for president in 2016, they didn't. Instead, many opted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump, according to exit polls in states such as Alabama, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi among others.

“There’s a lot of grassroots conservatives that refuse to forgive him on the Gang of Eight stuff on the last go around," said David Bozell, president of the conservative organization ForAmerica.

Bozell said that the issue wasn't that Rubio tried to come up with a solution, but rather that he failed to sell it to conservatives. And, Bozell adds, his fellow Republicans abandoned him.

Some Capitol Hill Republicans deciding how far to go on immigration now are looking back at Rubio’s experience as a cautionary tale.

“Sen. Rubio's fall from political favor came from prioritizing getting an immigration deal passed over getting a deal that was good for American wage-earners and communities,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA which is a group that advocates for reduction in legal immigration. “Others in a rush to pass another amnesty at almost any cost should be chastened by the Rubio story. “

Rubio still believes in finding a solution for those immigrants, especially the DREAMers who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and view this country as their only home.

The latest congressional effort to solve the immigration issue was prompted by President Trump’s September announcement that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in March and begin wholesale deportations. Trump gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution for immigrants covered by DACA, which was an executive action by former president Barack Obama.

“I’ve long supported doing something on that front,” Rubio said last month. “And really the debate in the Republican Conference is not whether to do something about it. I think the debate is what to do about it, how to do it. That’s a shift from where we might have been two, four, six years ago. And I think that’s true of the White House too, generally.”

But the debate regarding what provisions should be included in an immigration bill has pitted immigration hawks against more moderate members, of both parties — the same division that doomed the "Gang of Eight" compromise in 2013.

In addition to Graham, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., are former "Gang of Eight" members of the bipartisan group that claims to have the framework of a deal.  Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is also moderate on immigration has also been involved, rounding the group to six.

Durbin, the Senate's second most powerful Democrat, is one of the most vocal proponents of a deal to protect DACA recipients. He's also a member of a separate bipartisan group which includes Texas Sen. John Cornyn (the second ranking Republican in the Senate), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a Republican, and his Democratic counterpart, Steny Hoyer, of Maryland.

On Wednesday a group of conservative House Republicans released an immigration bill, known as Securing America's Future Act, that included DACA protections on a renewable three-year basis. In exchange, the bill included a lengthy list of both internal and external immigration enforcement provisions and reduced overall immigration levels by 25%.

A statement from the White House said the legislation “would accomplish the President’s core priorities for the American people.”

But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would not commit to bringing that bill to the House floor for a vote. Instead, he said it's a "constructive" effort.

"It's important that we start putting ideas on the table," Ryan added.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, one of the bill’s co-sponsors and a hard-line conservative, told reporters that the Securing America's Future Act would be the only way legislation that included DACA protections would be able to pass the House of Representatives.

Unlike the Senate, which requires bipartisan compromise to pass legislation with 60 votes, the House can pass all-Republican legislation if most members stick together.

Labrador dismissed the bipartisan talks with the former "Gang of Eight" members as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

“You do know what the definition of insanity is right?” Labrador said. “We have a Republican president in the White House who made his entire campaign about border security so to use the same process that they used under a Democratic president … that would be just completely futile in the House.”

Contributing: AP

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