The spin wars over John Cornyn’s proposed amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration bill to make legalization measures strictly contingent on achievement of “hard targets” for border control–and “hard” means not just inflexible but also exceedingly difficult to meet–are getting pretty interesting. This morning Greg Sargent took a charitable view of Marco Rubio’s role in Cornyn’s maneuvers:

Cornyn has undercut Rubio by staking out a position much further to the right of the Gang of Eight compromise that Rubio had been taking (he’s been saying some changes are needed, but not to the degree Cornyn wants). This risks making Rubio look like he isn’t the real guardian of conservative interests in the negotiations. Rubio has already been very sensitive to this perception, which is why he’s been making noise about defecting from the Gang of Eight compromise. Cornyn has just further undercut Rubio’s delicate balancing act.

Greg encouraged Senate Democrats to protect Rubio from his colleague by drawing a line in the sand well short of Cornyn’s demands.

Meanwhile, that other WaPo blogger, Jennifer Rubin, hailed Cornyn as the savior of comprehensive immigration reform, worrying only that House Republicans wouldn’t accept his “compromise.” And she also reported that Rubio was totally on board:

An adviser for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) authorized only to speak on background told me, “We’ve been talking with [Cornyn’s] office about border security for weeks, and have been supportive of his efforts. His plan is very much in line with what Sen. Rubio has been discussing publicly.”

So is Rubio a victim or a perpetrator of the Cornyn bill? Or more to the point: if Senate Dems take Sargent’s advice and reject Cornyn’s amendment, then what? Does Rubio shrug and tell conservatives he gave it his best shot and get back on the Gang of Eight bandwagon? Or does he shrug and tell the Gang the bill is doomed and turn his attention to more congenial, Iowa ’16-friendly duties like promoting a constitutional amendment to overturn Obamacare?

Another bit of evidence for the latter theory comes again from Rubin, who today is thundering that Democratic opposition to “reasonable amendments like Cornyn’s” could blow up the whole thing, in league with hard-core conservative opponents of any bill in both chambers.

Only Marco Rubio can answer the riddle definitively, but one thing ought to be very clear to everybody: Cornyn is asking the Gang and Senate Democrats to accept a version of the bill that is either very close to or well over the line that represents the maximum concessions any reform proponent can be expected to swallow, before House Republicans work their malicious magic on the legislation. Meanwhile, conservatives get to preserve their option to take it, make it worse, or kill the bill altogether. Unless Rubio or Cornyn can somehow get iron-clad assurances of House passage of the Gang bill as amended by Cornyn, or get Cornyn to accept major changes, going along with this game makes no sense even to those desperate for a bill.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.