President Obama keeps a close eye on Marco Rubio. Not an obsessively close one, mind you, but the White House's political GPS definitely tracks his movements.
The first-term Republican senator from Florida didn't inspire the White House's recent immigration shift, but his efforts undoubtedly accelerated it. Obama gave immigration officials wide discretion to, on a case-by-case basis, grant students in the crosshairs of deportation the right to obtain temporary work permits or attend college. Hill Democrats and Republicans alike believe that Obama outfoxed and outmaneuvered Rubio, who for three months advertised his intention to draft a GOP version of the Dream Act (which Obama's executive-policy gambit has now temporarily addressed).
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney had been waiting expectantly for the never-to-emerge Rubio bill. Now both are left stranded — much to the White House's delight — on the sidelines of immigration and Latino politics, while the president soaks up attention. And Obama's campaign has wasted no time deploying the policy as a fundraising weapon and to fuel a new round of Latino-centered registration drives.
"We were not thinking about Senator Rubio," Cecilia Muñoz, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told National Journal. "A lot of things were responsible." Still, Muñoz noted that some congressional Republicans "have focused on this issue in a different way" — none more visibly than Rubio, whom top White House advisers and Obama loyalists frequently cite as the most-Obama-like figure on the GOP's bench.