As one of his party’s leading voices on immigration, Rubio will be called on to sell other conservatives on any deal and he knows that doing so will be harder if that deal has the president’s stamp on it.
He’ll also have to convince Republicans that a bipartisan Senate agreement would be more conservative than what Obama would propose on his own.
Rubio’s office, trying to further distance itself from the White House, insisted Tuesday that the senator’s team had not been in talks with the administration on immigration. But Rubio spokesman Alex Conant later said that a representative from the senator’s office participated in five meetings with administration officials.
Administration officials said they were willing to take hits from the Florida lawmaker if doing so gave him the cover to work with Senate Democrats to reach a deal.
“As long as Sen. Rubio and the rest of the gang are making real progress on immigration reform, we are happy to be on the sidelines and even serve as a punching bag every once in a while,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior adviser, said.
The White House insisted it did not intentionally leak details of its immigration plan, which circulated widely at key government agencies. Top Obama aides tried to clear up the mess over the weekend, sending apologetic emails to the offices of the eight senators, including Rubio, at the center of the Capitol Hill negotiations.
Obama officials say the documents represent draft proposals, not a final bill. The president and his aides have repeatedly said publicly that the White House was readying legislation and would submit it to Congress if the Senate process stalls.
The draft White House proposal and the principles outlined by the Senate group overlap in many areas, though there are some key differences.