U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is "naive" on a key aspect of the immigration reform debate now in front of the Senate.
Grassley, in a conference call with Iowa reporters, objected to Rubio's remarks on the Senate floor earlier this week that people who are granted "registered provisional immigrant" status won't be guaranteed permanent residence in the country.
That "RPI" status is a key part of the legislation, and it is conditioned on meeting certain tests, such as paying a fine and maintaining a job. Supporters also say that RPI status is just a first step toward permanent residency and that border security provisions in the bill must be operational before people can apply for a green card. A green card grants permanent residency.
Republican critics, however, argue the border security provisions aren't tough enough and "legalization" shouldn't be granted before they are.
Grassley scoffed at Rubio's argument that "RPI" status, while a legal status, doesn't necessarily mean permanency.
"He's naive making that statement," Grassley said of Rubio. "Can you believe we have legalized 10 million people and 10 years down the road, the border isn't secured that we're going to illegalize those people — that's a made up word, I suppose — illegalize those people in the future. No, that's never going to happen."
Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is floor managing the bill for Republicans. And he's authored an amendment that would require the border to be secure for six months before people could get provisional status.
Supporters of the legislation were marshaling opposition to the amendment Wednesday. It's one of several Republican border security proposals.
Rubio, who is one of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that drafted the legislation, angered some conservatives with remarks in a Spanish language interview last weekend in which he said legalization would come before border security.
But in an interview with Fox's Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Rubio said there's a difference between legalization, such as having a non-immigrant visa, and a pathway to citizenship.
He said he favors border security before permanent residency, but not provisional status.
"It's border security before the green card. The problem is in the interim period you have to do something with the people here illegally so we know who they are," he said.
Rubio's office couldn't be reached for comment on Grassley's remarks, but he has said he favors further changes to the measure's border security language.
Grassley also got into a spat with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on whether to require 60 votes on amendments. Reid said that has been the threshhold that Senate Republicans have set for other measures. Grassley, however, said it was a betrayal of a process the bill's authors have boasted is uncharacteristically open.
"This is a very provocative act," Grassley said on the floor Wednesday.