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Marco Rubio and immigration-reform gamesmanship. Is he staying true or breaking his word?


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he's ready to vote against the very bipartisan immigration-reform bill he crafted for months in the U.S. Senate with seven others.

Rubio's concern: border security. He said it's not strong enough and the bill needs to be amended on the Senate floor.

"If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?" conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt asked him.

"Well," he said, "I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no."

The Republican's position is another in a series of reversals, flip flops and evolution on immigration reform. He used to call a pathway to citizenship "amnesty." Now he supports it, but says it isn't "blanket amnesty."

As an early-poll frontrunner in the Republican race for president in 2016, Rubio won't be able to shake speculation that he's being motivated by political consideration, not merely policy. Shortly after the Senate bill was published, the conservative media elite and tea party members have criticized the bill and, by extension, Rubio.

Democrats have been waiting to define Rubio as a creature of political opportunity.

Here's President Obama's pollster, Joel Benenson, in February: “Marco Rubio has a long way to go..The challenge for someone like Senator Rubio is that if people view his efforts as genuine, authentic and an act of true leadership and he’s really able to play a significant role, that’s one thing..But if people view his efforts as a pattern of angling for political advantage — even on the issue of immigration where in the span of three years his position has gone back and forth and back and forth again – he’s got some explaining to do. And that makes his position harder.”

But Rubio always left himself somewhat of an out when it comes to immigration reform. He said from the get-go that the bill needed to be improved. And, from a conservative standpoint, the bill was made tougher in the Judiciary Committee.

So is Rubio staying true to his word (saying the bill needed to be improved) or is he breaking it (by saying he'd vote against the very legislation he helped write)?

And how much of this is legislative gamesmanship?

Like any politician, Rubio likes being the center of attention. The media spotlight brings power. Rubio wants to be an indicator species for the health of immigration reform in the nation's Capitol. He wants to be the conservative salesman-in-chief, the attention-center.

But after the Gang of Eight's bill was released, he lost a measure of force. In many conservatives' eyes, Rubio lost luster.

Rubio was considered a yes vote for the bill. Now that he's acting as if he's leaning no, he's in play again. He makes his voice more crucial, positioned to try to take credit for bringing more Republicans to the bill.

Rubio also knows and has said that the bill written in the Democratic-controlled Senate bill won't pass the Republican-controlled House anyway. The as-yet-unreleased House bill will have the very types of conservative goodies Rubio probably wants anyway.

So Rubio likely wins this one from a public-relations standpoint, at least in the short term. But at what cost?