All About Marco

One of today’s more interesting items of Beltway gabbery comes from deep within the relentlessly beating heart of Tiger Beat on the Potomac (as Charles Pierce has unforgettably dubbed Politico). Yes, it’s an installment of Mike Allen and Jim VanderHei’s ultra-insidery column “Behind the Curtain,” and the subject du jour is Marco Rubio’s role in the development of immigration legislation.

The point of the column is very easy to divine:

Immigration reform is alive and kicking because Sen. Marco Rubio was there at conception. It will likely die if Rubio bolts in the end.

The possibility that Rubio could walk away, more than any other dynamic, is shaping the final details of new immigration laws, participants tell us.

The confusing thing is this: the “It’s all About Marco” story-line is one that is largely dictated by the Allen-VaneHei snail’s-eye POV, in which discrete decisions by Beltway Elites–preferably a single Great Man like the junior senator from Florida–determine absolutely everything. But in this particular case, that could be more-or-less true. Rubio stands astride the fault-line that separates non-anglo Swing Voters from the GOP’s nativist conservative base. It is presumed in Republican circles (though not with much evidence) that the dusky hordes of Latinos like Marco a great deal. And Marco’s elevation, perhaps to the White House, is a significant reason many “base” activists will grudgingly go along with an immigration bill.

According to Allen/VandeHei, Rubio’s doing a careful balancing act where he lends his Tea Party street cred to the congressional effort to hammer out an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, but then periodically signals he’s unhappy with this or that feature of proposed legislation, which lets The Folks know he’s as skeptical about “amnesty” as they are, while reminding his Republican colleagues he’s holding the whip hand. Most importantly, he must keep everyone in doubt, and Allen/VandeHei are just the guys to promote that perception:

Three people who have discussed the matter with Rubio say the Florida senator is more willing than people think to pull the plug if it looks like conservative resistance is too strong. In particular, Rubio’s inner circle is concerned about the high-profile roles of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom are Republicans that many conservatives distrust.

McCain and Graham need to be reminded, you see, that it’s all about Marco.

The one original data point I noticed in this piece is as follows:

Rubio advisers studied conservative objections to past immigration packages and found that a frequent complaint was that the measures had been too rushed. So Rubio has very publicly insisted on multiple hearings, and a wide-open debate and amendment process in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. “In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret,” he said in Sunday’s statement. He wants buy-in from other Republican senators, and a big number on final passage, not a close vote.

I’ve never much bought the legitimacy of the “liberals cramming legislation through Congress without scrutiny” meme, since it was applied so often to Obamacare, which crept through to passage after the White House and Max Baucus spent months chasing Republicans around Washington begging for negotiations. But it’s something “the base” buys, and since slow movement on immigration maximizes the time Marco Rubio gets himself lionized at Politico, why hurry?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.