Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio said on Sunday he still favors immigration reform, but he has accepted the need for a piece-by-piece legislative approach because “we don’t have the votes to pass” a comprehensive measure.
Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, said on “Fox News Sunday” there were fewer votes in Congress for comprehensive immigration reform now than two years ago, when he worked with Senate Democrats to help pass a comprehensive bill that included a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally.
That measure died in the House of Representatives amid conservative opposition. Rubio, who faced criticism from the right over his work on the Senate bill, now backs a piecemeal approach that would begin with border security.
“I still believe we need to do immigration reform,” said Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants. “The problem is we can’t do it in one big piece of legislation. The votes aren’t there” in the House of Representatives.
Rubio is one of a half-dozen Republicans running to be the party’s nominee in the November 2016 election, with more expected in the race soon.
Some critics have accused Rubio of backing away from comprehensive reform to placate conservatives who will play a big role in the Republican presidential primaries. Asked why he would not fight for comprehensive reform, Rubio said he was dealing with political realities.
“The context in which we are having this debate is much different,” he said.
He cited Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss last year in part because of his support for comprehensive immigration legislation, as well as Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s executive order last year easing the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented residents.
“Clearly, leaders stand for the idea you need to do something, but you also have to deal with the reality that in the political process people are going to vote based on what they’re hearing from their constituents and others,” he said.