No one was quite sure how the absence of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump would affect Thursday night's Fox News debate stage, but his absence allowed the debate moderators to focus most of the immigration segment on Sen. Marco Rubio's role in the Gang of 8 -- the mass amnesty bill that ultimately died in the House after passing through the Senate at Rubio's urging.
Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly began the immigration segment with a video montage of Rubio's anti-amnesty campaign statements made during his 2010 Senate run, asking him to square them with his role on the Senate amnesty gang. You can watch the video montage here.
Rubio's duck and dodge began with explaining the difference between what he opposed in 2010 with what he supported in 2013.
Kelly's montage showed Rubio explaining during his Senate run:
"First of all, earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty." -- Candidate Rubio
A 2009 clip shows Rubio saying:
"Never have and never will support any effort to grant blanket legalization amnesty to folks who have entered, or stayed in this country illegally." -- Candidate Rubio
Yet, we all know that Rubio's Gang of 8 bill would have immediately granted work permits and legal status to nearly 11 million illegal aliens before any enforcement provisions or border security measures were implemented. The only ones excluded from Rubio's amnesty were illegal aliens who had either recently entered the country, committed a felony, committed at least three misdemeanors, or committed voter fraud. No one in Washington has proposed granting work permits and legal status to illegal aliens who have committed crimes or recently entered the country, so Rubio's amnesty qualifies as the largest amnesty ever proposed in Congress. I would say that's a "blanket amnesty".
Kelly then hammered away some more.
KELLY: Within two years of getting elected you were co-sponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty. Haven't you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?
RUBIO: No, because if you look at the quote, and it's very specific. And, it says blanket amnesty, I do not support blanket amnesty...
KELLY: ... But, you went on from there...
RUBIO: ... I do not support amnesty...
KELLY: ... You said more than that, Senator...
RUBIO: ... No, I said I do not support blanket amnesty...
KELLY: ... You said earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty. You...
RUBIO: ... It was...
KELLY: ... supported earned path to citizenship...
NumbersUSA President Roy Beck commented today that he was surprised to hear Rubio hiding behind a kind of "king's X, crossed-fingers" explanation that because he used the word "blanket" he didn't really mean he opposed amnesty in general. Roy said:
"I feel certain that nearly every Floridian who in 2010 voted for Rubio over the Republican establishment's pro-amnesty candidate thought Rubio was actually opposed to granting a pathway to citizenship to millions of illegal migrants. How could they have known that he was only opposed to giving citizenship without collecting a fine? Or that he had used the adjective 'blanket' to signal that he really wanted the same thing as the pro-amnesty candidate who he defeated?"
Rubio even took fire from amnesty-supporter Jeb Bush.
"Well, I'm kind of confused because he was the sponsor of the Gang of Eight bill that did require a bunch of thresholds but ultimately allowed for citizenship over an extended period of time. I mean, that's a fact. ... And then he cut and run because it wasn't popular amongst conservatives, I guess." -- Gov. Bush
Kelly didn't direct her fire only at Rubio, however, she also went after Sen. Ted Cruz's support for amnesty in 2013. He had offered a series of amendments that would have kept the Gang of 8 amnesty in place, but says he's always opposed amnesty. You can watch that exchange here.
"[T]he bill was 1,000 pages. I introduced a series of amendments, each designed to fix problems in the bill. The fact that each amendment didn't fix every problem didn't mean that I supported the rest of the bill.
And I'll tell you who supported my amendment -- Jeff Sessions, the strongest opponent of amnesty in the United States Congress. And he did so because taking citizenship off the table was important, and it revealed the hypocrisy of the proponents of this bill, who were looking for votes." -- Sen. Cruz
Over the presidential campaign, Cruz has been more consistent in his opposition to amnesty and work permits for illegal aliens, earning himself an "A" on our Worker-Protection Immigration Grade Cards and an "Excellent" in the amnesty category.
While saying that he opposes amnesty, Rubio sticks by the Gang of 8's framework of allowing illegal aliens in the U.S. but delaying permanent legalization until after all enforcement is implemented. Rubio now says enforcement has to be complete before he would put illegal migrants on a path to citizenship. But he has never stated that he would change his Gang of Eight position that illegal migrants would get work permits even before the enforcement begins. Because of this, we've rated Rubio as "Very Harmful" on amnesty.
After the debate, Roy released the following NumbersUSA statement best summarizing the Hopefuls' positions on immigration.
"We learned that Rubio -- despite mixed history on the issue -- now opposes "blanket amnesty" but not other kinds of amnesty, and that (Rand) Paul and (Jeb) Bush are willing to stand up and be counted as candidates who also hope a way can be found to reward millions of illegal migrants with work permits. Whatever his past positions may have been, Cruz made it clear he stands in opposition to Bush's, Paul's and Rubio's aspirations for mass legalization. A high point was Rubio praising American sovereignty and the right to decide who, when and how foreign citizens enter the U.S. But like all the others on stage, he didn't address the all-important question of "how many."
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 10:16am EST