WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the beleaguered conservative pushing for immigration reform in the "gang of eight," took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to defend their bill from right-wing critics.
"Getting to this point has been very difficult," Rubio said. "To hear the worry, anxiety and growing anger in the voices of so many people who helped me get elected to the Senate, who I agree with on virtually every other issue, has been a real trial for me."
Rubio has come under fire for joining a bipartisan group pushing for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The pressure has come from tea partiers and other conservatives, including his former ally Jim DeMint at the Heritage Foundation, and lower favorability numbers.
The bill is expected to pass later this week, but most Republicans in the Senate oppose the bill. Though 15 Republicans voted Wednesday for a border security amendment aimed at winning over the GOP, the House GOP is unlikely to take the legislation up at all.
The Florida senator, whose efforts on immigration reform are considered by many as a precursor to a presidential run, insisted that he did not get involved in reform to further his career.
"This most certainly isn’t about gaining support for future office," he said. "Many conservative commentators and leaders who I deeply respect, and who I agree with on practically every other issue, are disappointed about my involvement in this debate."
Watch the full speech here.
For months, Rubio's office has run a rapid-response to myths on the comprehensive immigration reform bill. First there were false claims of the "Marco-phone," which supposedly would have given undocumented immigrants free phones. This week, Breitbart News claimed the immigration bill would give out free cars -- also false.
Rubio addressed that myth specifically in his floor speech.
"They oppose the bill because they have heard that it creates a taxpayer subsidy for people 'to buy a car or a scooter,'" he said. "That is not true. Nothing in this bill allows that."
Rubio has also faced an onslaught of criticism from talk radio and on television. He has thrown himself into the fire, appearing numerous times -- often within the same day -- to defend his bill. In his speech on the Senate floor, he again insisted that regardless of the criticism, it was the right thing to do.
But he also gave some credence to those who oppose the bill, and him. Rubio promised to continue to fight on their side to end Obamacare and cut taxes. He said that even with further border provisions added, he understood why Republicans don't trust that they will work or that the administration will follow them.
"I share this skepticism about this administration and Washington in general," Rubio said. "In just the two years I have been here, I have seen the games that are played and the promises that are broken, and how the American people suffer as a consequence. And this is exactly what led me to get involved in this issue in the first place."
But Rubio said he's not backing down.
"I realize that in the end, many of my fellow conservatives will still not be able to support this reform," Rubio said. "But I hope you will understand that I honestly believe it is the right thing for our country."
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