Here’s the key exchange from my interview with Senator Rubio on Tuesday:
HH: If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?
MR: 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. If they don’t pass, then we’ve got to keep working to ensure that we get to a bill that can become a law. We’re not interested in passing a Senate bill. We’re interested in passing a law that reforms a broken legal immigration system, that begins to enforce the law, and that deals with the 11 million people who are here illegally. And that’s the goal of this endeavor. And so if those amendments fail, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and keep working until we can figure out one that will pass. But I don’t understand why anyone would be against it, as such, I don’t think there is a good reason to be against strengthening border security for our country.
The complete transcript of our conversation is here and you should read the whole thing The key takeaway from Senator Rubio is his assertion that if border security amendments don’t pass, neither will the bill, and Senator Rubio won’t be supporting an unamended bill. The “Gang of 8″ bill is’t enough, in other words, and the minor changes made to the first draft during the Judiciary Committee write-up weren’t enough to get the Florida senator on board final passage.
Senator Rubio was also candid about his preference when it comes to the man or woman Governor Christie will appoint shortly and who will arrive in D.C. just as the immigration floor debate opens: ” I’d prefer it be a real conservative who can help us not just on this issue, but a bunch of other issues that we’re facing.”
What happens if the fence mandated by the forthcoming amendment doesn’t get built? ‘[T]he consequence would be that the green card process doesn’t begin,” Rubio replied. “Those folks who are here on a temporary status would have to remain in that temporary status until those things are accomplished.”
And how much of the fence that is mandated would have to be in place before the “trigger” is pulled? This is where the senator was least definitive. Even with the amendments to the Senate bill that provide a specific design for, say, a 1000 new miles of double fencing, and that lays out a map of where those 1000 miles of fence must be constructed, appropriates the money to do so and provides the complete legal authority to proceed “notwithstanding any other law,” still there will be questions about this Administration’s follow-through. Senator Rubio’s response to my concern that the “substantial compliance” standard isn’t enough:
HH: The word substantially, to my lawyer’s ears, is a terrible word, because substantially is in the eye of the beholder, and I just don’t trust them. And you know, you’ve run into this. I believe they’d certify substantially completed if you mandated a thousand miles of fence and they built then. They’d say oh, we’re substantially completed. How will people be able to challenge the administration’s interpretation of the law if in fact they are interpreting it as though, as the way that they’ve interpreted so many other laws like the Defense Of Marriage Act, like the immigration laws themselves?
MR: Well, part of that is I think it’s important that the plan is effective, not just that the inputs are there, but that it actually is working. And so that’s why your people are discussing things like 90% apprehension rate, et cetera. The thing about substantially completed is imagine if you built, if you mandates a hundred miles of fence, but the last half mile, you can’t build it for whatever reason, you know, the hurricane hits, or there’s some sort of natural disaster, or you can’t get an easement from the property owner, because you’re involved in an eminent domain taking or what have you, I mean, all sorts of things could happen that impedes that. So you want to see the plan substantially completed. But you also want to see the plan be effective. So that’s why you have these things about the 90% measures, and where that fits in, that’s going to be part of this discussion as well as how that fits into the trigger.
It is clear that border security will be the focus of the key amendments about to be unveiled, and that the bill is doomed if those amendments are real, specific and enforceable. Senator Rubio is genuinely committed to effective border security. We are about to find out if the Senate Democrats are, and if Governor Christie will send a reinforcement to help with the battle for the border.