The Gang of Eight that's working on passing an immigration reform law seems more like a gang of seven people who are managing one guy: Marco Rubio. The Florida senator and budding Republican star appears to be both critical to passing the bill and always within inches of blowing it up. While the gang has been highly focused on Rubio — there was a meeting last week to express "frustration" with him for moving rightward on border security without giving them a heads up, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports — Rubio has not been terribly focused on being part of the gang. Since April Rubio has been turning down requests to make public appearances with the other seven senators, Politico's Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown report. "The members feel like they’ve given him quite a bit of rope," a Democratic aide told Politico. "They just want to make sure it doesn’t end up hanging the deal at the end."
In his behind-the-scenes account of the Gang of Eight's negotiations, The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza offers some insight into why, earlier this year, all these senators swore Obama could fix Washington if he just went to more dinners with senators and said nice things about them. From Lizza's reporting, you get the impression the immigration bill's passage is impossible without massive amounts of mutual ego stroking among people who despise each other. Sens. John McCain and Chuck Schumer once hated each other because of a joke about Long Island, but they learned to get along over breakfast pastries. Now McCain says, "The reason why I enjoyed working with Ted Kennedy is because Ted was always good to his word... And so is Chuck." Sen. Bob Menendez says of McCain, "John’s been better than I’m used to... There have been fewer volcanic moments." Schumer said of Sen. Lindsey Graham, "Lindsey is one of the most brilliant politicians I've met... He’s very good at in some places being conciliatory and in some places being real hardlined. With him, it's not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's part of the same political personality."
But the man who gets the most love is Marco Rubio, a conservative who was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and will, if the next two years go as he hopes, be running for president in 2016. "Marco has been really the linchpin on the Republican side," Sen. Jeff Flake says. Menendez says Rubio knows how to "work over the conservative universe" to "neutralize them." Schumer says of Rubio, "He’s the real deal. He is smart, he is substantive. He knows when to compromise and when to hold. And he’s personable." Lizza writes, "An aide to Menendez said that, if the Gang were a group of high-school students, Rubio would be the cool jock and the captain of the football team, with whom everyone wanted to hang out." Is your faith in democracy restored?
Only McCain hinted at the other gangsters' reported frustrations with Rubio. Rubio backed an amendment from Texas Sen. John Cornyn, which requires much tougher standards of border security before undocumented immigrants are allowed to apply for legal status. McCain told The New Yorker, "Once in a while, you read, 'Rubio’s gonna do this, or do that!' Wait a minute, Marco! Let’s all be together." Schumer told The New Yorker that the immigration bill needs 70 votes in the Senate to get something passed in the House. But The Washington Post reports that the way Rubio is trying to get more conservative support might end up killing it entirely. A source told the Post, "The senators were frustrated because they felt like Rubio’s mixed signals on the Cornyn amendment were falsely raising expectations among gettable Republicans about the types of changes that are acceptable on border security." McCain reportedly confronted Rubio over the Cornyn amendment last week. But despite his move to the right, Rubio's aides aren't afraid conservatives will claim he supports "amnesty," Politico's Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman report on Monday. It's that now it might look like his colleagues like him too much. "Rubio’s advisers feel greater anxiety about a different label: Washington. As in, 'Marco’s gone Washington.'"