Will CNN Debate Moderators Ask Marco Rubio About His Shifting Position On Immigration?

Will CNN Debate Moderators Ask Marco Rubio About His Shifting Position On Immigration?

Rubio Has Not Been Asked About His Changing Positions On Comprehensive Immigration Reform In Any Presidential Debate

››› ››› TYLER CHERRY Versión en español

As CNN prepares to host the fifth GOP presidential primary debate on December 15, a Media Matters analysis has determined that moderators of the past GOP debates have not asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) about his shifting positions on immigration reform, while other candidates have been asked about their immigration stances.

CNN To Host The Final Republican Presidential Debate Of 2015 

Republican Candidates To Face Off In Critical Debate Before Iowa Caucuses. Nine GOP presidential candidates will appear on December 15 in the fifth Republican presidential primary debate, which is seen as "a critical event that will help shape the contest heading into the Iowa caucuses." The debate will be hosted by CNN and moderated by Wolf Blitzer, who will be joined by chief political correspondent Dana Bash and Salem Radio Network talk show host Hugh Hewitt:

Nine candidates will appear in prime-time Tuesday night for the final Republican presidential primary debate of 2015, a critical event that will help shape the contest heading into the Iowa caucuses.

Businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner for the nomination, will again be center stage flanked by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on his right and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on his left, CNN announced Sunday. The six remaining participants in the prime-time contest will be Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.


CNN's debate, which will be held in Las Vegas and is the fifth of the primary season, is the first to use early-state polls as a way to make the main event in prime-time. Candidates must meet one of three criteria in polls conducted between October 29 and December 13 and recognized by CNN: an average of at least 3.5% nationally; at least 4% in Iowa; or at least 4% in New Hampshire. [CNN, 12/13/15]

Previous 2015 GOP Debate Moderators Have Given Marco Rubio A Pass On His Immigration Stance, Failing To Ask About His Previous Positions

In First GOP Debate, Hosted By Fox News, Moderator Chris Wallace Asked Rubio To Respond To Trump's Remarks About Undocumented Immigrants, But Not About His Own Immigration Plan. During the August 6 GOP debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Rubio to respond to comments made by GOP frontrunner Donald Trump about undocumented immigrants and the Mexican government, but never directly asked Rubio about his current immigration plan or his previous positions. Wallace only asked, "Is it as simple as our leaders are stupid, their leaders are smart, and all of these illegals coming over are criminals?" From TIME's debate transcript:

WALLACE: All right, well, Senator Rubio, let me see if I can do better with you. Is it as simple as our leaders are stupid, their leaders are smart, and all of these illegals coming over are criminals?

RUBIO: Let me set the record straight on a couple of things. The first is, the evidence is now clear that the majority of people coming across the border are not from Mexico. They're coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Those countries are the source of the people that are now coming in its majority.

I also believe we need a fence. The problem is if El Chapo builds a tunnel under the fence, we have to be able to deal with that too. And that's why you need an e-verify system and you need an entry-exit tracking system and all sorts of other things to prevent illegal immigration. But I agree with what Governor Kasich just said. People are frustrated. This is the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration. There are a million people a year who legally immigrate to the United States, and people feel like we're being taken advantage of. We feel like despite our generosity, we're being taken advantage of.

And let me tell you who never gets talked about in these debates. The people that call my office, who have been waiting for 15 years to come to the United States. And they've paid their fees, and they hired a lawyer, and they can't get in. And they're wondering, maybe they should come illegally.


RUBIO: And so these are important issues, and we should address it. It's a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and otherwise we're going to keep talking about this for the next 30 years, like we have for the last 30 years. [TIME8/11/15]

In CNN's First Debate, Moderator Jake Tapper Alluded To Rubio's Past Immigration Stance, But Did Not Ask Him Directly About His PositionDuring CNN's September 16 GOP debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked Rubio to respond to Sen. Ted Cruz's remark that "A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty." Tapper alluded to Rubio's past immigration position, noting that Cruz has referred to it as "amnesty," but did not ask him directly about his previous positions or current policy proposals. From Washington Post's debate transcript:

TED CRUZ: But I will say this: The natural next question that primary voters are asking, after we focus on illegal immigration is, okay, what are the records of the various candidates? And this is an issue on which there are stark differences.

A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty. I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty and, in fact, who helped lead the fight to stop a massive amnesty plan.


TAPPER: But Senator Rubio, I'm not sure exactly whose plan he's -- he's saying is -- constitutes amnesty, but I know he has said it about your plan in the past, so I want to give you a chance to respond, then, Dr. Carson, we'll come to you.


RUBIO: Well, let me say that legal immigration is not an issue I read about in the newspaper. Immigration, illegal immigration, all the good aspects of immigration and all the negative ones as well, I live with. My family's immigrants. My neighbors are all immigrants. My in-laws are all immigrants.

So I've seen every aspect of it, and I can tell you America doesn't have one immigration problem, it has three.

First, despite the fact that we are the most generous country in the history of the world in allowing people to come here legally, we have people still coming illegally.

Second, we have a legal immigration system that no longer works. It primary is built on the basis of whether you have a relative living here instead of merit.

And third, we have 11 million or 12 million people, many of whom have been here for longer than a decade who are already here illegally.

And we must deal with all three of these problems. We cannot deal with all three of these problems in one massive piece of legislation. I learned that. We tried it that way.

Here's the way forward: First, we must -- we must secure our border, the physical border, with -- with a wall, absolutely. But we also need to have an entry/exit tracking system. 40 percent of the people who come here illegally come legally, and then they overstay the visa. We also need a mandatory e-verify system.

After we've done that, step two would be to modernize our legal immigration system so you come to America on the basis of what you can contribute economically, not whether or not simply you have a relative living here.

And after we've done those two things, I believe the American people...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

RUBIO: ... will be very reasonable and responsible about what you do with someone who's been here and isn't a criminal. If you're a criminal, obviously, you will not be able to stay. [The Washington Post9/16/15]

In CNBC's Debate, Moderator Quintanilla Referenced Rubio's Past Immigration Legislation, But Did Not Ask Him To Account For His Changing Positions. During CNBC's October 28 GOP debate, moderator Carl Quintanilla briefly mentioned Rubio's past "immigration bill providing a path to citizenship" and noted that he no longer supports it, but did not ask him about his changing immigration positions or his current stance. Quintanilla only asked Rubio whether he should, as a young Senator, "slow down, get a few more things done first," before running for president. Rubio also was allowed to respond to Donald Trump's remark that "Marco Rubio has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities":

CARL QUINTANILLA: We will come around the bend, i promise. This one is for Senator Rubio. You've been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You've had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don't support anymore. Now, you're skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?

RUBIO: That's an interesting question. That's exactly what the Republican establishment says too. Why don't you wait in line? Wait for what? This country is running out of time. We can't afford to have another four years like the last eight years.


BECKY QUICK: Mr. Trump, I want to go back to an issue that we were talking about before, the H-1B visas. I found where I read that before. It was from the donaldjtrump.com website and it says -- it says that again, Mark Zuckerburg's personal senator, Marco Rubio has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities. Are you in favor of H-1Bs or are you opposed to them?


RUBIO: Look, in addition to what Donald was saying is we also need to talk about the legal immigration system for permanent residents. Today, we have a legal immigration system for permanent residency that is largely based on whether or not you have a relative living here. And that's the way my parents came legally in 1956.

But in 2015, we have a very different economy. Our legal immigration system from now on has to be merit-based. It has to be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you're coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American. [TIME10/28/15]

Fox Business Moderators Failed To Ask Rubio About Immigration During November 10 GOP Debate. Marco Rubio was not asked any questions about immigration during the November 10 GOP debate hosted by the Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal. [TIME11/11/15]

But Rubio Has Changed His Position On Immigration Reform Numerous Times, Having Previously Supported Comprehensive Reform

Rubio Was Part Of The Bipartisan Gang Of Eight That Crafted Comprehensive Immigration Reform In 2013According to a New York Times report, Sen. Rubio previously helped craft a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform package that was seen as "an opportunity ... to be part of a major legislative endeavor that could forge the kind of compromise" needed to pass immigration reform. Rubio remarked during the Gang of Eight immigration reform push that he "never had any problem with the path to citizenship." The Times also reported that "Mr. Rubio had already been working on his own immigration plan" before he was asked to join the bipartisan group of senators:

At the time, it looked like a smart move, both for Mr. Rubio and his party.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, had just lost the election after he received the smallest share of the Hispanic vote in modern presidential elections: a mere 27 percent. Party leaders commissioned an audit of their situation, which concluded that the party would have to substantially improve its standing with Hispanics if it ever hoped to occupy the White House again.

Mr. Rubio, who harbored presidential ambitions, saw an opportunity: to be part of a major legislative endeavor that could forge the kind of compromise that had become so rare in the nation's capital, the kind that conveys both seriousness and a sense of accomplishment.

The Democrats saw the boyish and charismatic Cuban-American as an eloquent spokesman and partner who could help them sell an immigration deal to conservatives on Capitol Hill.

A freshman senator, Mr. Rubio had spent much of his time on Capitol Hill building up his foreign policy portfolio. With assignments on the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Intelligence Committees, he traveled to war zones including Libya and Afghanistan, and attended global conferences on national security.

Involving himself in an effort as combustible as immigration would be a huge risk for any Republican, but especially for one who owed his political career to the Tea Party. Yet the issue was personal for Mr. Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants who had grown up in a Miami neighborhood where Spanish was often the first and only language used. [New York Times, 11/14/15]

After Receiving Blowback, Rubio Backed Away From Supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform. After receiving harsh criticism from the Republican base, Rubio "backed off" his previous support for the Gang of Eight's immigration reform bill "and said he no longer favor[ed] a comprehensive approach to immigration." Rubio said he instead preferred a "piece-by-piece" approach to reforming the immigration system. In April 2015 "Rubio wouldn't say if he'd sign his own bill into law" and instead called the question about supporting immigration reform "hypothetical." [Bloomberg6/9/15]

Politico: Rubio Made A "Notable Shift On Immigration." In a November 4 article, Politico wrote that Rubio has gradually moved away from his previous support of immigration reform, and in a "subtle but notable shift" he "sharpened his position" and called for the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). The article explained that Rubio had previously called for the executive action to be repealed once Congress "passed immigration reform" to replace it, but now Rubio feels "DACA will have to end, even if Congress never hands him an immigration bill to sign if he is elected as president":

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took a subtle but notable shift on immigration on Wednesday, declaring that he would end a program designed to protect young undocumented immigrants in the United States, even if a congressional overhaul doesn't happen under his watch.

Previously, Rubio had said as president he would not immediately revoke the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- a 2012 directive from President Barack Obama that shielded so-called DREAMers who came here illegally at a young age from being deported.

Rubio indicated that he hoped the program would end because lawmakers would have passed immigration reform to replace the executive action.

But on Wednesday in New Hampshire, Rubio sharpened his position: DACA will have to end, even if Congress never hands him an immigration bill to sign if he is elected as president.


The Florida senator - who played a key role in the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform efforts in 2013 - conveyed similar remarks earlier this year, but expressed less urgency about revoking Obama's action. [Politico11/4/15]

And Other GOP Candidates Have Been Asked About Their Positions On Immigration Reform During Debates

Scott Walker Was Asked About His Shift On Immigration Reform. During the August 6 GOP debate, Chris Wallace asked Gov. Scott Walker to "explain why in the last two years you've changed your position on a path to citizenship, and are there other past positions that we shouldn't hold you to?" [TIME8/11/15]

Jeb Bush Has Explicitly Been Asked About His Support For "Earned Legal Status." During the August 6GOP debate, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked Jeb Bush about his "support for earned legal status" and his "new plan ... on illegal immigration focusing on enforcement." [TIME8/11/15]

Donald Trump Has Been Questioned Over His Plan To Mass Deport All Undocumented Immigrants. During the September 16 GOP debate, CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump to explain "how much your plan" to deport all undocumented immigrants "will cost, and how you will get it done." [The Washington Post9/16/15]

Donald Trump Was Asked About His Plan To Combat President Obama's Deferred Action Programs. During the November 10 GOP debate, Donald Trump was explicitly asked "what will you do about" "the Obama administration's plan to prevent the deportation of 5 million people living in this country illegally" by moderator Maria Bartiromo. Bartiromo also asked Trump "Can we just send 5 million people back with no effect on economy?" [TIME11/11/15]

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