Immigration Reform 2013: Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan Face GOP Backlash


Call it a marriage of convenience. In the battle to win over the majority of the Republican Party on immigration reform an alliance has been formed between two of the GOP's rising stars. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has endeavored to assist Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in his push to convince the Republican Party to go along with the immigration reform plan proposed by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" group of senators.

Both Rubio and Ryan are widely seen as potential frontrunners for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Although helping the other will boost their profile in the minds of voters, the risks of sitting on the sidelines during this debate are too great to not take action.

Rubio was a member of the Gang of Eight and this immigration reform effort is widely seen as his first major legislative opportunity to build up a profile in the minds of voters toward 2016. After the release of the plan, Rubio has essentially went all in on efforts to convince fellow Republicans to support it, appearing in ads that tout the plans conservative values, especially border security and no social assistance to undocumented immigrants who go through the 13 year process to become legal. Rubio has essentially tied up much of his political capital in this bill and a defeat would be catastrophic for any future higher office ambitions.

But Rubio has faced backlash from fellow Republican legislators, conservative media pundit, and activists over the plan that emerged last week. From being attempted to be linked to the false "ObamaPhone" meme with "MarcoPhones" to dealing with members of his own party making statements that hurt his cause, such as Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) saying that Al Qaeda terrorists, "are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic," Rubio has quite a bit of work ahead of him in convincing his fellow republicans to follow his lead on immigration reform.

Ryan is providing support on the fiscal front. Ryan has acquired a status among the Republican Party as a budget wonk so his involvement will be crucial for a House version of the Senate immigration reform bill to pass. His position on Capitol Hill allows him to vouch for the price tag and economic effects of the bill, providing much needed cover for nervous Republicans who would like his stamp of approval for the vote for the bill.

Ryan has already started taking heat for his position on immigration. Conservative radio host Mark Levin blasted Ryan on his program, saying, "he's creating a record here for himself that makes it very, very hard, in my view, if he chooses to run for president, to vote for him."

Ryan's action on the immigration reform bill takes him outside of his usual domain of fiscal and taxation issues that he has become know for in Washington DC. Although he is stepping out of his comfort zone, it is vital for him to establish a well-rounded portfolio of legislative actions that he can point to for any 2016 run. Given that immigration reform is probably going to be the highest profile issue that Washington tackles in the near future, it makes sense for him to take a stand here.

Even though they may run against each other in 2016, a success on the immigration reform bill would boost their statures for any potential run. The problem is actually getting a bill past their fellow Republicans.