Neither Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) nor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can truthfully claim they've been fully consistent on how to deal with undocumented immigrants. At Thursday's Republican presidential debate, they took a different tack -- sniping back and forth in a way that laid bare that they'd both changed the way they talk about a path to citizenship.
Bush said he had laid out his own immigration plan for legal status in his book, during an attack on Rubio for backing away from his reform bill.
That gave Rubio an opening to hit back.
"That is the book where you changed your position on immigration," Rubio said. "Because you used to support a path to citizenship."
"So did you," Bush retorted. "So did you, Marco."
Rubio is right: Bush's book did make a major flip from his prior statements on a path to citizenship. While Bush had previously said he would support one, in Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, he and co-author Clint Bolick wrote that "a grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage." They said undocumented immigrants should still be eligible for citizenship if they went back to their native countries first and applied to return.
Bush is right, too. Rubio helped draft the so-called gang of eight immigration reform that overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013, and has since backed away from it, particularly its provision for a path to citizenship.
Moderator Megyn Kelly showed video of Rubio before his days in the Senate criticizing "blanket amnesty," and asked whether he had flip-flopped on the issue.
Rubio argued during the debate that he can be trusted on immigration, and said his first priority on the issue was keeping ISIS out of the country. Next, he said he would enforce immigration laws, secure the borders, track people entering and exiting the country and require businesses to use the E-Verify system to check whether employees are legally eligible to work. (All of those are elements of the gang of eight bill.)
Once all of that is done, Rubio said, he would see what the American people are "willing to support" for undocumented immigrants. But it wouldn't entail deporting all of them or "handing out citizenship cards," he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also had to answer as to whether he has flip-flopped on his stance on immigrants.
Moderators played a clip of him talking emphatically in 2013 about how undocumented immigrants should be able to come out of the shadows and get legal status. Those statements were made as he argued for what he and many others have said was a poison pill amendment to the gang of eight bill that blocked undocumented immigrants from citizenship.
"Was that all an act? It was pretty convincing," Kelly said.
Cruz's answer boiled down to yes. He said the amendment wasn't about legal status and he had never supported the full bill.
"The fact that each amendment didn't fix every problem didn't mean that I supported the rest of the bill," he said.
Read the latest updates on the GOP debate here: