Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) doesn't necessarily have a problem with President Obama's new immigration policy on substantive grounds, but he's getting a little whiney about the process. Indeed, the far-right senator is throwing in the towel on his watered-down DREAM Act and blaming the president for its demise.
For the past three months, Rubio has been trying to craft a bill that would give legal residency to young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
But on Friday, Obama essentially turned Rubio's undrafted proposal into an executive rule made by his administration. Rubio and other Republicans say Obama overstepped his bounds.
"When the president ignores the Congress, ignores the Constitution and forces a policy like this down the throat of the American people, it's going to make it harder to have a conversation like that," Rubio said. "It's going to make it harder to elevate the debate."
The Republican senator also complained yesterday that the White House "never called" to talk to Rubio about the proposal Rubio never introduced.
I can appreciate the ways in which Obama has made Rubio's life more complicated -- the Floridian hoped to be attached to one credible idea, and the president beat him to it -- but this whining is politically unseemly and substantively foolish.
For one thing, Obama didn't ignore the Congress or the Constitution. The president has pressed Congress to act for years -- the DREAM Act even had the votes of the majority of the House and the majority of the Senate -- but Republicans refused to allow so much as a vote. When Obama got tired of waiting, he decided to use his prosecutorial discretion in a way that even conservatives consider legitimate.
For another, Obama isn't forcing a policy "down the throat of the American people," either. The president's position is overwhelmingly popular and enjoys bipartisan support. Obama chose to help hundreds of thousands of families that have waited for fairness and decency, and the American mainstream is glad the president took this action.
But I'm especially amazed to hear Rubio whine about Obama's move making it "harder to have a conversation." A conversation about what? Congressional Republicans' refusal to do anything?
Democrats and Republicans originally worked together on the DREAM Act, before the GOP's far-right base demanded the party drop its support. Democrats and Republicans also originally worked together on comprehensive immigration reform, before right-wing activists vetoed that, too.
In other words, Obama and Democrats have been engaged in a "conversation" for several years, and have been willing to accept concessions as part of a larger compromise. In return, Republicans moved to the right, abandoned positions they used to embrace, filibustered bills they helped write, and refused to consider any kind of cooperation on the issue.
Even Rubio's watered-down version of the DREAM Act -- which he never got around to introducing -- had been rejected by his own party. Mitt Romney's chief advisor on immigration policy said Rubio's elusive plan was a non-starter, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Florida senator shouldn't even bother with his bill because it couldn't pass.
And Rubio would have us believe Obama ruined the process and made bipartisan progress impossible? Seriously?
Ezra Klein had an excellent summary of the bigger picture: "To recap: When Democrats endorse ideas Republican pioneered, that doesn't lead to bipartisanship. When they endorse ideas Republicans currently support, that doesn't lead to bipartisanship. And when they act on their own, that's too partisan. So what, exactly, are they supposed to do?"
That's a rhetorical question, of course, but what they're supposed to do is take advantage of every available opportunity to move the policy forward, working around Republicans whenever possible. That's exactly what Obama did on Friday.
Rubio isn't whining because he had high hopes for legislative progress; Rubio's whining because the president did something clever and unexpected.