Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio, center, with a bipartisan group of senators at a Washington news conference to unveil details of an immigration overhaul bill in April 2013. (Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

By Jason Horowitz
February 27, 2016

A few weeks after Senator Marco Rubio joined a bipartisan push for an immigration overhaul in 2013, he arrived alongside Senator Chuck Schumer at the executive dining room of News Corporation’s Manhattan headquarters for dinner.

Their mission was to persuade Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the media empire, and Roger Ailes, the chairman and chief executive of its Fox News division, to keep the network’s on-air personalities from savaging the legislation and give it a fighting chance at survival.

Mr. Murdoch, an advocate of immigration reform, and Mr. Ailes, his top lieutenant and the most powerful man in conservative television, agreed at the Jan. 17, 2013, meeting to give the senators some breathing room.

But the media executives, highly attuned to the intensifying anger in the Republican grass roots, warned that the senators also needed to make their case to Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio, who held enormous sway with the party’s largely anti-immigrant base.

So the senators supporting the legislation turned to Mr. Rubio, the Florida Republican, to reach out to Mr. Limbaugh.

The dinner at News Corporation headquarters — which has not been previously reported — and the subsequent outreach to Mr. Limbaugh illustrate the degree to which Mr. Rubio served as the chief envoy to the conservative media for the group supporting the legislation. The bill would have provided a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants along with measures to secure the borders and ensure that foreigners left the United States upon the expiration of their visas.

It is a history that Mr. Rubio is not eager to highlight as he takes on Donald J. Trump, his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, who has made his vow to crack down on illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign.

Those discussions of just a few years ago now seem of a distant era, when, after the re-election of President Obama, momentum was building to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

The senators embarked on a tour of editorial boards and newsrooms, and Mr. Rubio was even featured as the “Republican savior” on the cover of Time magazine for his efforts to change immigration laws. He already was being mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender.

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