With the release of the “Gang of 8″‘s bipartisan immigration bill today, conservative opponents of reform now have a juicy 844-page target to attack instead of just a set of talking points. Mindful of the risk, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is responding rapidly to rumors and innuendo on the right in the hopes he can shut them down before they spread.First on the list: the “Marco Phone.” Conservative bloggers immediately seized on portions of the bill funding expanded cell phone access along the border as evidence Rubio was supplying free phones to undocumented immigrants. Some commentators connected it to the “Obama phone,” a popular meme on the right last year about a program that provides discounts on phone service to the poor. Despite the moniker, it predated the current administration by decades and rose to prominence last year mostly due to a viral video of a female black Obama supporter talking about the program.
Rubio himself was confronted with the claim on Wednesday in an interview with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, who quoted from a blog post that read “Move over Obama phone, this is the amnesty phone.”
“That’s false,” Rubio said. “That’s not for the illegal immigrants. That’s for U.S. citizens and residents who live in the border region so that they can have access to calls. One of their complaints – that’s actually part of the Kyl border bill that we adopted. And what it does is it provides communication equipment to people who are living in the border region so they can report illegal crossings because many of them either don’t have phone service or don’t have cell phone service and they have no way of calling.”
Soon after the interview, Rubio’s press office sent out a release debunking the “Marco phone” attack, one of several statements that day branded as “myths vs. facts” updates on the bill. Rubio press secretary Alex Conant also noted that the senator’s multiple conservative radio appearances on Wednesday were explicitly designed to “knock out misinformation.”
Rubio calling talk-radio to explain immigration reform and knock down misinformation. Pic of him on w/ Huckabee now: twitter.com/AlexConant/sta…
— Alex Conant (@AlexConant) April 17, 2013
Along those lines, Rubio’s website now has what appears to be an unfinished section devoted to “Immigration Reform Facts.” Conant declined to comment when asked by TPM about the page, a screenshot of which can be seen below.
It’s not just the legislative text that’s going to be a challenge on the right. Even before the bill’s release, Rubio pushed back against efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a leading reform opponent, to tie immigration legislation to the Boston marathon attack based on early (and inaccurate) reports that the bombing suspect was a Saudi male on a student visa. On Wednesday, the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network confronted another terrorism-related claim by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who suggested Islamic terrorists are training to “act like Hispanic” in order to infiltrate the country.
There’s some irony to Rubio’s predicament. Conservative commentators derived a multitude of conspiracy theories from misreadings of health care reform bills in 2009 and 2010. The most prominent and ugly claim was that it would create “death panels” that could fatally withdraw care from the elderly and disabled, an outrageously false charge that many national Republicans encouraged, either tacitly or explicitly. Rubio, who became a national star in tea party circles around the same time, is surely well aware just how powerful a rumor can be once it spreads among the conservative base.
Update: Here’s another good example of how Rubio’s office is handling the issue. They just sent out this five-minute video of the senator explaining his position to everyone who has ever e-mailed him asking about the topic.