Rubio’s balancing act on immigration

A year ago Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago-born son of Puerto Rican immigrants, called Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) an “extremist” on immigration.

But after hearing Rubio’s pitch last week on his version of the so-called DREAM Act, the liberal Illinois Democrat sang a more positive tune — so much so that some of his colleagues are beginning to rib him about it.

“I was catching all this grief from Democrats: ‘Oh, now you’re Rubio’s best friend.’ ‘Hey, does he have a little office for you when he’s VP?’” Gutierrez recalled in an interview. “There’s no meanness to it — it’s part of the politics of this place.”

The meeting with Gutierrez and top Hispanic Democrats was one of many stops on a Rubio charm offensive as the Florida Republican has engaged in a behind-the-scenes lobbying blitz to sell his proposal that would help children of illegal immigrants gain a more-permanent legal status.

Rubio is working an odd-bedfellows coalition, ranging from hard-line anti-illegal immigration groups like Numbers USA to progressive leaders in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. And as he meets with Democrats, he is actively moving to head off a conservative rebellion, trying to curry support from the influential Heritage Foundation, religious leaders like Richard Land and tea party favorites like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

But the rookie senator is already finding that building a coalition on a hot issue like immigration — in an election year, no less — is an incredibly tough slog.

If his proposal is too tough on enforcement, he’ll lose support from Democrats and Latino advocacy groups. If he softens his proposal too much, he risks turning off conservatives who are approaching Rubio, a rising star in the party, with an open mind. For now, both sides are reluctant to fully embrace his proposals.

“There are significant obstacles,” Rubio, a potential Mitt Romney running mate, told POLITICO. “I’m not saying this is going to be easy and this issue comes with a long history and things that happened before I got here. So I’m dealing with that a little bit, too.”

For now, Rubio’s strategy is to solicit input from key conservatives in his party, who could influence a significant number of Hill Republicans. At the same time, Rubio’s team is trying to woo groups representing children who could be affected by his proposal, a move that would pressure Democrats who claim they’re worried about young people brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own.

“If you want to compare it to the Republicans’ rhetoric, it’s an improvement,” said Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who attended the meeting with Gutierrez and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) last week. “If you want to compare it to what we’ve been proposing with Democrats along with some Republicans, it’s not an improvement.”

Read more at POLITICO.

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