Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas) sparred during Thursday night's Republican presidential debate over their records on immigration, each accusing the other of changing his position and taking a tougher stance on illegal immigration for political reasons.
Cruz accused Rubio of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants in 2013 when he helped write the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill, saying that Rubio sided with Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., NY) when he did so.
“When that battle was waged [for comprehensive immigration reform], my friend Senator Rubio chose to stand with Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and support amnesty,” Cruz said on the debate stage. “And I stood alongside [Sen.] Jeff Sessions and [Rep.] Steve King, and we led the fight against amnesty.”
Cruz then invoked Sessions and King, two of the staunchest opponents to amnesty and legalization in Congress, as well as conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, telling voters that they all believe the Gang of Eight bill would have passed if not for his opposition to it.
Rubio defended his record and argued that Cruz is the one who has changed his views on immigration.
“The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign you've been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes,” Rubio said. “Ted, you worked for George W. Bush's campaigns. You helped design George W. Bush's immigration policy.”
Rubio then cited an interview Cruz did with CBS News when he was elected to the Senate in which he said, according to Rubio, “On the issue of people that are here illegally, we can reach a compromise.”
“And then in the committee, you said, ‘I want to bring people out of the shadows,’” Rubio added. “Now you want to trump Trump on immigration.”
Cruz said in response that while both he and Rubio made the identical promise while running for office to lead the fight against amnesty, he was the only one to keep that pledge and not give in to political pressure.
The moderators played video during the debate of past comments made by Cruz that appeared to show he was once willing to compromise on immigration despite his current hard stance on amnesty. Video of Rubio was also shown in which he appeared to oppose amnesty in 2009 and 2010 before he helped write the Gang of Eight bill.
Both Cruz and Rubio now say they do not support amnesty and want to focus on border security and then address the immigrants inside the country rather than pursue comprehensive immigration reform all at once.
Immigration has been one of the hot button issues of the 2016 campaign cycle, especially in the Republican Party. The conservative base voting in the GOP primary generally opposes amnesty, and most of the candidates have made an effort to appear tough on illegal immigration.