By STEVE PEOPLES and KEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Republicans face a delicate balancing act as they embrace an unprecedented shift in their views on immigration reform â¿¿ and no one better exemplifies the potential risks and rewards than Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Rubio has courted conservative commentators in recent weeks, outlining a set of principles for changes in immigration law that include a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the United States. He's in the vanguard of a growing list of prominent Republicans who see their election-year pummeling among Hispanic voters as a wakeup call to address a broken immigration system and repair their standing among an evolving electorate.
As an emerging Republican star, Rubio could burnish his resume for a 2016 presidential campaign by steering immigration reform through the Senate. A bipartisan Senate group that includes Rubio reached agreement this week on a wide-ranging immigration plan that includes a citizenship provision.
Other Republicans are moving on the issue. A bipartisan group in the House is working on a similar proposal. Last week in Charlotte, N.C., most members of the Republican National Committee agreed that the GOP must improve its tone and message on immigration. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an influential party member, used an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal to urge the nation to "seize the moment" on bipartisan reform.
Yet the politics of immigration remain perilous for any Republican. The GOP establishment runs the risk of alienating passionate supporters of hard-line immigration policies. Despite Rubio's well-received outreach to influential conservatives like radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, opposition already is forming.
"Rubio's bill is nothing but amnesty," wrote conservative columnist Ann Coulter, referring to it as "a wolf in wolf's clothing."
Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana told radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that his Republican colleague was "amazingly naive on this issue. This is the same old formula that we've dealt with before."