Sometimes it is important to take a breather. For the past 48 hours, the conservative media have been in a state of frenzy over the [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] v. [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] clash that has been latent for over a month but was finally laid bare for all to see during Tuesday night’s debate. Though the two oratorically gifted Cubans tussled over a number of issues, the fight over immigration has been front and center. Most specifically, the conservative media have been trying to figure out exactly what [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] intended to do via his five amendments offered during Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearings back in May of 2013, in the midst of the fight over the terrible Gang of Eight amnesty bill for which [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] served as a lead GOP salesman. Competing narratives have emerged as to whether Cruz indeed did support some sort of pathway to legalization (but not citizenship) after the Southern border is secure, thus allegedly rendering his 2013 mid-legislative fight stance more or less equivalent to Rubio’s claimed 2015 presidential primary season stance—or, alternatively, whether the amendments were offered as purely procedural ploys to expose to both the public and to Republican congressional leadership (namely, [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ]) that at the heart and soul of the Gang of Eight bill was the toxic pathway to citizenship provision. I have probably read close to thirty or forty articles and blog posts these past couple of days on this somewhat arcane debate.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am an open and proud supporter of [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ]’s presidential campaign. I think Erick is right when he lays out the plausible and defensible reasons that a conservative may back either Cruz or Rubio, but for a number of reasons I prefer Cruz. Holding Cruz’s immigration stance aside for a moment, I know I do not trust Rubio on the issue. I trust Cruz, a former clerk to conservative U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and a vocal opponent of the fallacious doctrine of judicial supremacy, more on judicial appointments. I prefer Cruz’s soberer foreign policy doctrine—which Ross Douthat not-unreasonably describes as “a more pro-Israel version of George H.W. Bush-era realism,” which Matt Lewis once described as “militaristic pessimism,” and which I describe as somewhere between Eisenhower/Kissinger-esque realism and Reagan/Kirkpatrick-esque hawkishness—to Rubio’s nostalgic embrace of something closely approximating George W. Bush-era neoconservatism. Contra the prevailing wisdom in some circles, I do not think the difference in general election “electability” between Cruz and Rubio is particularly salient. And so on, and so on.
At the same time, I have no trouble admitting that I am a longtime fan of [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]’s. I have plenty of close friends and conservative allies in the Rubio camp, including some who have worked for him or still work for him. He showed extremely poor judgment in signing onto and helping to promote Barack Obama and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s amnesty legislation in 2013, has taken some other tough votes with which I disagree, and has more generally not been a true thorn in leadership’s side like a [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] or a [mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ]—but, the fact remains that [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] is clearly a substantive conservative and a talented politician. I would enthusiastically campaign for him against Hillary Clinton were he to win the nomination.
On the actual issue of the amendment (S.Amdt.1332 to S.744, 113th Congress) that has proved most controversial that Cruz offered on the Gang of Eight bill during the May 2013 Judiciary Committee markup hearing, where he allegedly is said to have implicitly supported a pathway to legalization for those aliens presently here illegally, here is the precise text:
SA 1322. Mr CRUZ submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 744, to provide for comprehensive immigration reform and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:
On page 1076, strike line 20 and insert the following:
SEC. 2215. IMMIGRANT CATEGORIES INELIGIBLE FOR UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP.
Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, aliens granted registered provisional immigrant status under section 245B of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added by section 2201, including aliens described in section 245D(b)(1) of such Act, and aliens granted blue card status under section 2211 are permanently ineligible to become naturalized citizens of the United States, except for aliens granted asylum pursuant to section 208 of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1158). (emphasis added)
SEC. 2216. AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.
That right there is the controversial amendment that the conservative media have been obsessing over these past 48 hours. The text of the amendment in question plainly only strips the pathway to citizenship provision—which is presumably why the amendment failed in Judiciary Committee hearing markup by a vote of 13-5, though the five protesting votes included Cruz and the three other staunchest border hawks serving on the Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress in [mc_name name=’Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001141′ ], Sen. Mike Lee, and [mc_name name=’Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000386′ ].
There has been plenty written unearthing the contemporaneous context of the Cruz amendment and whether or not his public statements at the time may impute support for some sort of legalization for illegal aliens. I find highly plausible Cruz’s defense of the amendment as a “poison pill,” which Erick noted this morning would have necessarily required a bit of motive concealment at the time. When I interned for Sen. Mike Lee’s Judiciary Committee staff in 2014, I attended numerous markup hearings and saw precisely these sort of tactics commonly at work. However, I also find plausible Dan McLaughlin’s slightly different take on the sequence of events, which he chronicled over at Storify. As a law student sympathetic to exegetical textualism, I personally care much more about the plain text of the failed amendment than I do about non-textual context and oral statements made on the floor of the U.S. Senate. And the plain text of the amendment only strips away the pathway to citizenship; it does not indicate support for anything else in the underlying bill. It would be nice if someone were to simply ask [mc_name name=’Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001141′ ]—the staunchest of all staunch Senate border hawks—whether he would have supported the Gang of Eight bill on the Senate floor if Cruz’s proposed S.Amdt.1332 to S.744 were to have passed out of the Judiciary Committee markup hearing, but I suspect no one is asking that question point-blank because the answer is so very obvious.
At the end of the day, GOP voters will have to decide for themselves where precisely Cruz stood and whether Rubio has sufficiently repented. The bottom line remains that the Gang of Eight amnesty bill was very, very bad. Yet I cannot help but think that Breitbart’s Joel Pollak is right when he opines that, frankly, almost no one cares about the legislative nuances of Cruz’s tactical posturing during the midst of this fight for which he was still an instrumental opponent, and for which Rubio was still a chief proponent. Those of us incessantly hooked on the 24/7 news cycle, who spend hours and hours each day digesting conservative media and refreshing our Twitter feeds, might be forgiven for thinking otherwise—but it is, in fact, still the case that almost no one cares. It is perhaps particularly the case when one accepts, whether you are a Cruz (like me) or a Rubio partisan, that the other Cuban Senator would still be worth happily supporting in a general election contest. It is perhaps doubly particularly the case when one accepts this conclusion about each Senator’s worth in a general election contest and additionally glances to see a big-government faux-conservative fraudster somehow still leading the national polling.
The RedState community is an indispensable part of the conservative movement. I personally know that the Cruz camp very much values RedState, and I am sure the same is true for the Rubio camp. We strive to advance ideological conservatism and not capital-R Republicanism, and in so doing we are deeply plugged-in activists who closely follow all the minutiae of the political zeitgeist. But sometimes the minutiae really does get the better of all of us, and I cannot help but think that the past 48 hours of post-debate coverage is one such example. Those conservatives for whom immigration ideological purity is a top issue were likely already predisposed to support Cruz (I am not going to count the immigration hardliners supporting the aforementioned “big-government faux-conservative fraudster” as conservatives), and those for whom immigration ideological purity is not a core issue were perhaps a bit more inclined to support Rubio. Nothing that has happened since Tuesday will change that dynamic, despite all the text messages, emails, and social media messages that I have received about the fallout.
There is still plenty of fertile ground for Cruz and Rubio to debate, if they wish to do so. A robust, extended discussion of their distinctive foreign policy doctrines is deeply important for both the conservative movement and for the Republican Party. I do hope we hear much more of that airing out in future debates, once the field winnows a bit. The two can debate their very different tax reform plans, their differing approaches for how to deal with the Obergefell same-sex marriage constitutional travesty, or their very different procedural postures the past few years in dealing with [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] and Senate Republican leadership.
But insofar as the debate will continue over what exactly was the intention of Cruz’s S.Amdt.1332 to S.744, offered in May of 2013 in the context of the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, I think I am done. There are simply more important things to do. I will probably bum on the couch and watch some old Star Wars films this afternoon, in anticipation of seeing Episode VII tomorrow.
In the interim, though, since I have been sucked in along with the rest of us these couple of days, here is a confession:
My name is Josh Hammer, and I am a completely hopeless political junkie.