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Immigration reform bill: GOP's Marco Rubio seizes opportunity, but also risk

Sen. Marco Rubio, a favorite of the tea party, is key to the ultimate success of new immigration reform legislation. His presidential prospects could rise or fall with the bill.

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Rubio seems well aware of the potential pitfalls, and he has been careful to emphasize that he understands where those on the far right are coming from. He also isn't overpromising when it comes to what ultimately winds up in the bill (which has not yet been drafted), making clear that there's a chance he won't be able to support it in the end if, for example, adequate border-security triggers aren't included.

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Correspondent

Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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In an interview Tuesday with radio host Rush Limbaugh, Rubio said that if  Mr. Obama tries to set off a "bidding war" by putting forward a proposal with more lenient provisions, "then there won't be a solution." He added: "I'm just trying to do the best I can with what's already a tough situation. I pray it works out. I can't guarantee that it will, but we're going to do our best."

For his part, Mr. Limbaugh – who has made clear that he opposes the plan, which he calls "amnesty" – was nevertheless complimentary of Rubio, telling him: "What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy," but adding that he doesn't trust the president on the matter.

The bill's prospects will likely hinge on timing as much as anything else. Frustrated by recent electoral losses, Republicans have been openly discussing for months the need to moderate the party's hard-line stance on immigration. As Senator McCain put it bluntly Monday: "The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize this is an issue in which we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens."

In addition, the rate of illegal immigration has abated in recent years – a phenomenon most analysts credit to the weak US economy – and that slowdown may be taking some of the passion out of the opposition, at least as compared with the last time the issue came up during the Bush years.

Rubio himself has evolved on the issue, since he has previously argued in favor of a "piecemeal" approach rather than one comprehensive bill. As Mickey Kaus of The Daily Caller tweeted this week: "If a pol had Rubio's convenient policy shifts + weren't a) moving 2 Dem side + b) Latino, what would MSM call him? #opportunisticflipflopper."

But if Congress passes a comprehensive reform package, will anyone really remember or care about Rubio's previous positioning? We doubt it. And it will provide a big stake to the claim that he represents the future of the Republican Party.

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