WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform takes center stage this week in the U.S. Senate. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida will be the lawmaker to watch as he works to sell the idea to skeptical conservatives.
Passing immigration reform involves convincing two audiences -- Spanish speakers and influential conservatives, like those who listen to talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
As a Cuban American Rubio walks the walk. And as the lone Tea Party sponsor, he also gives the effort a bipartisan feel. But if he's not satisfied with the final bill Rubio could walk away. His job is to bring conservatives on board.
"Has this been harder of a sell than you originally thought?" CBN News's David Brody asked the Florida lawmaker.
"The answer to that is yes and no," he replied.
The Easy Part
Rubio believes a majority of the country would accept illegal immigrants as long as there are penalties that go along with it.
Rubio also sees hope in the evangelical community.
"I think the biggest change hasn't been in the pulpit. It's been in the pews," Rubio said.
"The folks who are attending church, who maybe five years ago felt differently about this issue -- now they're worshipping next to an illegal immigrant family," he continued. "Now they've met someone who's in the circumstance."
"So it's one thing when 11 million is a statistic. The other thing is when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being you now know," he said.
The Hard Part
The harder sell for Rubio is making sure the bill clearly enforces border security.
"I think that's where we are in this debate. Can we do enough about border security so that people will support doing something about the 11 million?" Rubio told CBN News. "And that's what I'm focused on; that's what I'm working on trying to accomplish."
"We've gone to my colleagues and they're saying 'We just don't think it's enough. We don't trust the administration, quite frankly Republican or Democrat. We've been told this before that they're going to secure the border and that never happens,'" he said.
A key vote this week could be a border security amendment added by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, which would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify a 90 percent apprehension rate along the Mexican border.
Rubio seems to support this, but as for his line in the sand, he has one broad theme:
"For me, if we start trading, let's say we start weakening the guest worker program in exchange for stronger border security -- I'm not interested in that horse trading," Rubio stated.
"I don't have a problem dealing with this issue in one bill comprehensively, so long as the different subject areas are dealt with within those subject areas," he said. "We're not trading good policy for bad policy."
But a number of Tea Party conservatives accuse Rubio of pushing bad policy.
"Remember the broken promises of the 1986 illegal alien amnesty? Marco Rubio is making the same promises like real border security. Promise broken," one Anti-Rubio immigration ad said.
Radio talk show host Laura Ingram said, "I can tell you from my radio listeners they think it's time to stop dividing the Republican Party on this issue with all your good intentions and I know you have them."
Sticking to His Guns
Therein lays the political dilemma: Rubio is considered by many to be a GOP frontrunner for president in 2016. His support for immigration reform, however, might hurt his standing with conservatives in the primaries.
Still, Rubio seems determined to stick to his guns.
"The day I start making decisions around here with the mind toward what other office I want to run for, I'll no longer be very effective," he said.
"Whatever is going to happen on this issue, whatever is going to happen with me is what God's already planned for me," Rubio told CBN News. "My job is just to be obedient and have faith in that regard.
"And that's really something," he said. "Like everybody else I struggle with that because the human side wants us to think about the here and now, but I think ultimately if you try and approach every issue in life -- from the smallest details to a big issues like this - with that viewpoint, it gives you a sense of peace and calm about you wouldn't otherwise have."
He's going to need that calming peace during the turbulent days ahead.