These two Republican senators the former an up-and-comer from Florida, the latter a stick-in-the-mud from Utah are on opposite sides of the issue, and of history, on one of the few matters that stands a chance of being reasonably addressed by Congress this year: immigration reform.
Rubio is a rock star of the political class, especially that subset of it already obsessing on who might run for president in 2016. He is a Republican with well-established conservative bona fides, yet his youth and his Latino heritage help him stand out from the crowd. His participation in a bipartisan group of eight senators, from across the country and along the political spectrum, will help that group's proposed immigration reform package, announced Monday, gain traction for a quest that has failed so many times before.
Lee was invited to join that ad hoc caucus by its Democratic leader, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. The Utahn sat in for awhile, but reportedly dropped out when he determined that the direction the group was heading was too much like the one path he promised he would never take: amnesty for illegal aliens.
Thus has Lee, allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, lost his best chance to influence this debate.
By opposing anything that sounds, smells or tastes like amnesty, Lee basically renders moot any attempt to make any progress on the issue. He also fails to recognize something that Rubio so perceptively pointed out in a column published in Sunday in The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"What we have now," Rubio wrote, "is de facto amnesty."
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now resident in the United States. They are not going to be deported en masse. A great many of them, especially those who were brought here as small children, are so totally assimilated into American culture that to expel them would be to deprive them of the only home they have ever known. A great many more have provided the backbreaking labor necessary to feed the rest of us.
The senators' proposals thus start from the way things are, not the way we might want them to be, and suggest a pathway out of the shadows, first to legal residency, then to citizenship, for those undocumented persons who are otherwise legally clean and can jump through several other legal hoops to establish their willingness to play by the rules.
Once, that is, we have some rules that can be reasonably played by. The Senate proposal is a good start. Good thing they didn't wait for anyone from Utah to get it going.