By Carrie Dann, NBC News
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday said the comprehensive immigration reform bill is almost "ready to go" but still needs substantial border security fixes, dismissing accusations from conservative critics that he has been manipulated by veteran Democratic lawmakers in their efforts to pass the bill.
"I think it's an excellent starting point, and I think 95, 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go," he said of the bill, which is being debated in the Senate this month. "But there are elements that need to be improved."
Asked about rhetorical jabs from some immigration reform opponents during an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Rubio dismissed conservative commentator Ann Coulter's charge that he is "being played" by Sen. Chuck Schumer, another member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that drafted the original legislation.
"Quite frankly, I don't even know what that means," he replied.
"I recognize there is a division among conservatives about [immigration reform.] I respect other people's views on it," Rubio added. "I understand why they are frustrated by it. I just hope people understand that the reason why I've undertaken this is because this is a major problem that's hurting our country."
The Florida Republican, who has said the comprehensive bill will not pass without the beefed-up border security requirements, declined to engage in "hypotheticals and ultimatums" about whether he could vote for the bill without those fixes.
"I think the debate now is about what that border security provision looks like," he said. "And if we do that, this bill will have strong bipartisan support. If we fail, we're going to keep trying, because at the end of the day, the only way we're going to pass an immigration reform law out of the House and Senate so the president can sign it is, that it has real border security measures within it."
On CNN's State of the Union program Sunday, Rubio's "Gang of Eight" colleague Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said that negotiators are open to more specificity on the border plan but that its "triggers" must not impede the bill's path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"I would simply say to our colleagues we are open, if you want greater specificity about what that border plan looks like, we're open to that," he said. "But what we cannot have and what I cannot support and what I believe the community cannot support at the end of the day is that we're going to have triggers that can never be achieved in terms of border security as an impediment to the pathway to legalization and citizenship.
And the New Jersey lawmaker warned that, without embracing that legalization plan, Republicans will face political extinction.
'The road to the White House comes through a road with a pathway to legalization," he said. "Without it, there'll never be a road to the White House for the Republican Party."
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