Jeb Bush’s reversal on immigration reform throws a wrench into the conventional wisdom surrounding the 2016 presidential election, where many expected Bush would run as a moderate antidote to Mitt Romney’s hardline campaign. His latest stance could put him to the right of a number of potential rivals, several of whom only recently came out for reform themselves. Here’s a rundown of five top tier Republicans’ position on a path to citizenship, from clearest to vaguest:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Just two months ago, Rubio was publicly against not only a path to citizenship but the very notion of comprehensive immigration reform while Bush was sniping at unnamed “shortsighted” politicians (hint, hint) who favored a weak “piecemeal” approach to reform. Now Rubio is working his heart out trying to sell conservatives on comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship and Bush has pulled his previous support for the policy.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Ryan’s also come a long way since last year, when he was running alongside a presidential nominee advocating “self deportation” and ruling out citizenship even for young undocumented immigrants. He’s been a vocal supporter of the Senate’s reform efforts and has come out decisively for a path to citizenship himself. From an appearance last month on ABC’s This Week:
Jon Karl: Let’s just be clear, you have said you would support an immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship correct?
Congressman Paul Ryan: Yes, absolutely because we think there is a way to do this through earned legalization without rewarding people who have come in with undocumented status, illegally. We don’t want to give them an advantage over those who came here legally and we think that there’s a way to do this while still respecting the rule of law. It’s clear that what the President is talking about does not do that…
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
The leading tea party hopeful for 2016 is an immigration moderate. He told Politico shortly after the election he favors an “eventual” path to citizenship and has since said the party needs to “evolve” on the issue, outlining a framework for a bill that sounds relatively similar to the Senate “Gang of 8” plan, which Rubio has endorsed.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)
Already assailed on the right for some of his more moderate positions, Christie appeared to endorse immigration reform including citizenship for illegal immigrants way back in 2010.
“The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people,” he told ABC’s Jake Tapper at the time.
He clarified his answer later in an interview with Sean Hannity (now pro-citizenship himself), saying he meant a pathway to citizenship for legal immigrants (which is kind of an odd phrase to drop in that context). However, he added: “I don’t think you’re going to be able to say every person who’s in this country illegally is going to go back to their country of origin, that’s not going to happen. But I don’t think … people who are here illegally should be able to cut the line in front of people who are doing the process the right way.” That rhetoric is largely in line with immigration reformers like Rubio and President Obama today, who frequently describe their own path to citizenship in identical terms.
Christie hasn’t been too vocal on the issue since. But he did accept the endorsement of his state’s Latino Leadership Alliance for his re-election campaign this month, telling its members that the GOP needs to do more to appeal to Latinos. The group’s leader, Martin Perez, is a longtime supporter of Christie and told the Newark Star Ledger that the governor privately assured him he backs comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship. Christie has not commented on his account of their conversation.
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Walker’s position on immigration is somewhat murky. Politico interpreted comments he made at a recent event as an endorsement of a path to citizenship, but he subsequently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he hasn’t worked out his final position.
“I think long term that’s going to be a part of it but I think there are too many people here in Washington who are leapfrogging over everything else and trying to get to that right away,” Walker told the Journal Sentinel when asked whether he’d taken a position on citizenship . “We fundamentally don’t have a system … to legitimately deal with people who want to come — in fact, I think you would greatly reduce if not outright eliminate the number of people who come in illegally if we had an effective, time-effective particularly, system of dealing with legal immigration.”
So mark him down as a “maybe” for now.
Bush addressed his immigration proposals during an appearance Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”:
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.