Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that there aren’t 60 votes to pass the immigration bill he wrote and that the Senate will have to embrace even stiffer enforcement in order to win voters’ confidence and sway lawmakers reluctant to repeat the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty.
The Florida Republican’s acknowledgement comes as both sides of the debate are preparing for the bill to hit the Senate floor next week. After weeks of discontent simmering beneath the surface, conservatives and liberals have begun to publicly take shots at the bill, leaving immigrant rights groups to circle the wagons ahead of what’s expected to be a bruising floor fight.
“In essence, what people say to us is, ‘We know we have to reform the legal immigration system. We know we have to deal with the 11 million people that are here illegally, but we are only willing to do that if we can make sure that this never, ever, happens again,’” Mr. Rubio said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.”
Immigrant rights groups questioned whether Mr. Rubio was trying to scuttle the deal he negotiated with seven other senators — three Republicans and four Democrats — that would give quick legal status to illegal immigrants but withhold the full pathway to citizenship until after some steps are taking on enforcement.
Cristina Jimenez, an official with United We Dream, a group of young illegal immigrants who were granted stays of deportation by President Obama, said Mr. Rubio is “moving the goalposts” on a final immigration bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will push the bill ahead no matter what, and said it will be up to the GOP to decide whether they want something to pass.
“Ninety percent or more of Democrats are going to vote to move forward on immigration. We want this bill passed. The system’s broken and needs to be fixed,” he said.
Preparing to debate
Republicans already have signaled they won’t filibuster bringing the bill to the floor, which will give Mr. Rubio a chance to offer amendments to try to improve immigration enforcement.
Mr. Rubio said he thought even Democrats would concede they lack the votes to pass the bill, and in fact that’s the case. Late last month, Sen. Robert Menendez, another of the Gang of Eight senators who wrote the bill along with Mr. Rubio, said they lacked enough support right now.
“We don’t currently have 60 votes identified in the Senate,” the New Jersey Democrat told Univision. “We need to add more votes on the floor.”
The bill’s authors had hoped to clear not just the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, but to get 70 or more votes, which they hoped would give their bill momentum and convince wavering House lawmakers to take up the issue.
In his interview with Univision, a Spanish-language network, Mr. Menendez called for viewers to lobby their lawmakers to support the bill.
In the two months since senators unveiled their immigration bill, supporters have had momentum on their side, while the opposition had been relegated to a slim but vocal minority. That momentum pushed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-5 vote, with three Republicans joining all 10 Democrats on the panel in support.