Sen. Marco Rubio wants to use a must-pass spending bill to go after President Barack Obama’s planned executive action on immigration, a risky strategy that could spark a government shutdown battle just one month before the election.
“There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a Continuing Resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this,” the Florida Republican told the conservative website Breitbart.com in an interview published Tuesday. “I’m interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue. Beyond that, I’m not sure if the president is going to make this decision before we go back or after.”
Rubio torched the idea of Obama unilaterally granting deportation relief to people in the U.S. illegally, which is expected to be part of an immigration move that the White House has promised by the end of summer. The debate has riled up the Republican base as the issue of immigration surges to the top of their national concerns.
“If the president goes through with this executive action that he’s threatening,” Rubio said, “not only does it raise very serious constitutional issues but in my opinion it sets back the cause of reform for a long time.”
The way the Rubio strategy would work, in theory, is that Republicans in Congress would refuse to pass a spending bill — a continuing resolution — to keep the federal government running unless it includes a provision to weaken or undo the Obama’s immigration move. The government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress doesn’t pass a funding bill.
There is no indication that House or Senate Republican leaders will adopt this idea. It’s very risky, particularly with Democratic leaders supportive of Obama acting alone on immigration and a consequential election coming up in November in which Republicans are heavily favored to maintain control of the House and potentially win enough Senate seats to take the majority.
One of the few things that could jeopardize a GOP Senate takeover is a shutdown. It’s even more perilous for Republicans because it could turn the tables against their candidates seeking to defeat red-state Democratic senators who are uncomfortable with Obama’s immigration plans.
A spokesman for Rubio said he had nothing to add to the senator’s comments.
When Republicans tried this strategy last year in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare, the public blamed them for the shutdown and their popularity sank to a record low. From a pure political standpoint, a government shutdown would be perhaps the greatest gift Republicans could give to Democrats this fall.
“[A government shutdown] one month before an election? Nah. I don’t think they’re that stupid,” said a senior Democratic aide. “I mean, I hope they’re that stupid. But never in my wildest dreams would I expect them to be that stupid.”
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, quickly seized on Rubio’s remarks. “This Republican Congress continues to play chicken with the economic wellbeing of our country with a reckless disregard for the damage they cause in the process,” he said. “Republicans must take shutdown off the table once and for all and pass a continuing resolution the moment they return from their summer vacation.”
Rubio has come a long way since he helped write and pass an immigration overhaul in the Senate. He reiterated to Brietbart.com that he no longer believes reform is possible in a comprehensive way, saying it must include border security first and be done in a piecemeal manner. He also called for an end to Obama’s 2012 “deferred action” program to temporary grant deportation relief to certain young people who have been living in the country for years.