Sen. Marco Rubio to Jay-Z: Get your facts straight on Cuba

Immigration reform pushed by the bipartisan 'Gang of Eight' hits the Senate this week. Sen. Marco Rubio is a key player, and he was all over the news shows Sunday talking about that.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference on immigration legislation with other members of the 'Gang of Eight,' including, from left, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey.

Sen. Marco Rubio is a main Republican point man on immigration reform, not to mention trying to get Hispanics to vote GOP for a change. And he was all over the TV news shows Sunday – seven venues (two Spanish language) – which may be a record – touting the points he’ll make when legislation is taken up this coming week.

But first he had a message for rapper Jay-Z, who went to Cuba recently on a trip with his wife, pop singer Beyoncé, that conservative critics saw as propaganda for a repressive country.

"If Jay-Z was truly interested in the true state of affairs in Cuba, he would have met people that are being oppressed, including a hip-hop artist in Cuba [jailed rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga] who is right now being oppressed and persecuted and is undergoing a hunger strike because of his political lyrics," Senator Rubio said on ABC's “This Week.”

"Jay-Z needs to get informed," Rubio said. "One of his heroes is Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a racist. Che Guevara was a racist that wrote extensively about the superiority of white Europeans over people of African descent, so he should inform himself on the guy that he’s propping up."

But aside from Cuba – a minor issue in immigration reform but important to Floridians like Rubio, whose parents emigrated from there – Rubio’s stance and now outspokenness on immigration could be risky for him and the Republican Party.

“The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives,” writes Manu Raju at Politico.

Rubio is one of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who’ve taken the lead on immigration, but he has remained a bit of a wild card, pressured from both directions.

On Friday, the president of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement union called on Rubio to step down from the Gang of Eight, charging that proposed legislation “offers legalization, or amnesty, before enforcement.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee but not a member of the Gang of Eight, hammered the same point in a press release Sunday.

“This proposal offers immediate legalization with unfulfilled promises of enforcement in the future,” Senator Sessions said. “This is contrary to the commitment … made to the American people and raises the same core problem as the 2007 proposal that was rejected by the American people.”

“The guest worker program in this proposal represents only a fraction of the increase in legal foreign workers that will be rapidly introduced,” Sessions added. “Including those illegal immigrants that are legalized, this bill, over 10 years, will result in at least 30 million new foreign workers – more than the entire population of Texas.”

“While this may mean lower wages for the business lobby, and more political power for AFL-CIO leadership, it will be bad for American workers – union and nonunion,” he said. “And it will expose taxpayers to enormous long-term costs, including trillions in unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security from which low-wage foreign workers will draw more benefits than they pay in.”

But such concerns seem unlikely to kill the bipartisan package in the Senate, although it could change certain elements through the amendment process.

In his interview appearances Sunday, Rubio appeared all in with the Gang of Eight proposal, pronouncing himself “optimistic” that reform legislation can be won.

“I think this bill answers all of the questions that people raise,” he told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation." “That's why it's taken so long. That's why we spent so much time on it.”

“This bill does three things that are fundamentally important for our country,” Rubio said. “It modernizes our legal immigration system – something we need to do no matter what. It puts in place the toughest enforcement measures in the history of the United States, potentially in the world. And it once and for all deals with the issue of those that are here illegally, but does so in a way that is fair and compassionate but does not encourage people to come illegally in the future, and isn't unfair to the people that have done it the right way.”

“It will be a long process, hopefully a very open process,” he said. “And I think it will take some time but I believe we can get there."

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