Sen. Marco Rubio joins his conservative allies in backing off immigration reform support over border security. (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, one of the members of the bipartisan group working to pass immigration reform in the U.S. Senate, is changing his tune as the bill faces its last few hurdles in the Senate.

Rubio has been one of the main proponents of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Senate and has been the face of a small group of senators working to get something passed. Rubio has made media appearances in favor of the Senate’s bill and has lobbied his conservative colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate for the past few months.

The immigration bill, if passed, would create a lengthy citizenship process for the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country, and it would beef up the country’s border security.

However, hard-line conservative Republicans have spoken out against the bill and have vowed not to support it. Many of them oppose any path to citizenship for immigrants and are also picking a fight over border security.

Rubio, whose Tea Party support helped him get elected in 2010, was at odds for a time with his right-wing colleagues over both issues. However, Rubio soldiered on with his support of immigration reform despite calls from the right wing of his party to stop the bill until there is more border security.

That is, until now.

According to The Huffington Post:

…In recent days, one of the chief Republican gang of eight members, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has soured on the bill, citing insufficient border security measures. In private conversations, Rubio has been making entreaties to try give the bill a more conservative bent, according to sources.

Rubio had privately urged fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to remain quiet about her support for immigration reform, in hopes that Senate negotiators would amend the bill’s border security measures to win her vote, according to three sources, including one Republican Senate aide. Ayotte, a moderate-leaning New Hampshire Republican, decided nevertheless to announce her support for the measure on Sunday, becoming the first Republican outside of the group to back the reform legislation.

Rubio “has not been telling them to vote no,” said one Senate Democratic aide familiar with negotiations. “He has been apparently holding people back from declaring support for the bill, while at the same time saying the bill needs changes in order to garner support. My understanding is he told Sen. Ayotte’s office to hold back, but she didn’t care.”

A Republican Senate source confirmed Rubio’s lobbying of Ayotte, saying it was “not the first time” Rubio had done something not aligned with the gang of eight’s interests.

A spokesman for Ayotte flatly denied that such a conversation took place. A spokesman for Rubio said he could not confirm the anecdote.

As the National Journal puts it, Rubio is presenting “two faces” in the fight: he is pushing a publicly supported effort to reform the country’s immigration laws in a bipartisan manner, while simultaneously threatening the bill in an effort to make it more conservative.

The Journal reports:

In a radio interview Tuesday with conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., drew a line in the sand. Asked whether he would vote for the Senate’s immigration overhaul if certain border-security provisions were not adopted, he said no. “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,” he said.

Rubio hardly sounded like one of the senators who helped craft the immigration-reform package behind closed doors. He was, after all, brought into the “Gang of Eight” to help sell, not sink, the legislation with conservative lawmakers. Instead, he sounded like Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who got his tech-friendly amendments included during a markup because he was seen as the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee who might vote for the legislation.

This is how Rubio’s immigration dance has gone—and will likely continue to go until the final vote on the Senate floor. Rubio is playing both the ultimate insider’s game (crafting a major piece of legislation with a small group of lawmakers) and the ultimate outsider’s game (trying to build public pressure to sway the legislation in a more conservative direction). On the issue of immigration, he’s trying to be just a little bit pregnant. “I hope he knows what he’s doing,” says Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “because he’s playing a very dangerous game with immense implications not only toward the immigration bill but for his 2016 presidential chances as well.”

President Obama said today that GOP claims that the bill doesn’t have enough border security are unfounded.

Talking Points Memo reports:

President Obama on Tuesday took aim at Republican critics of immigration reform who claim border security provisions in the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill are not strong enough to allow it to pass.

“This bill would be the biggest commitment to border security in our nation’s history,” he said in a statement at the White House.

“No one is taking border security lightly,” he added, touting his administration’s record deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Even though the fight for immigration reform in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate is rocky, due to the fact that everything in the Senate needs to pass with 60 or more votes these days, the fight in the U.S. House for the bill will be even harder.

The more conservative House of Representatives needs a large number of Republicans in support of the bill in order for it to pass.