Distancing himself from immigration debate, Marco Rubio in New Hampshire to stump for Scott Brown

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Sen. Marco Rubio made a stop in New Hampshire earlier this week to stump for Republican senatorial candidate Scott Brown – who has blasted the senator’s bipartisan bill on immigration reform.

Brown, a former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who is now running in neighboring New Hampshire, made it clear earlier this week during a debate with Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen that despite the high-profile visit from Rubio, he would not support Rubio’s proposed immigration reform bill.

“I would not have supported that bill, because it still did not address the one thing that is very important,” Brown said, according to Bloomberg.  “I did not believe the mechanisms in there were strong enough to address that very real issue. And I also believe that it dealt with the amnesty issue a little bit too leniently."

Some questioned whether Rubio’s decision to stump for Brown was a sign that the prospective 2016 presidential candidate was backing away from his friendly stance on immigration reform.

During the debate, Shaheen gave a strong defense of the bill that Rubio helped draft.

"The way to make the border secure is to do some of the things that are in that legislation," Shaheen said. "It provides for additional border security — almost double the number of border agents — 700 miles of fence, more money for interdiction and surveillance efforts, that E-Verify system. And it would have also dealt with the 11 million people who are here illegally, because they would have gotten in line behind the people who were here legally. And it would have said they have to pay fines, they have to learn English, they have to pay their taxes in order to qualify to continue to be here."

After Rubio received much criticism for his position on immigration, the first-term senator is now focusing on border security.

In August, Rubio urged President Barack Obama not to take actions that would shield from deportation millions of people who entered the U.S. illegally. Congress, Rubio said, should first "make real progress on stemming the tide of illegal immigration."

Rubio's aides say the senator always has stressed border security and that he insisted on tougher enforcement measures as a condition for his Senate vote last year. But immigrant advocates contend that in emphasizing only border security and dismissing his own bill, Rubio is effectively switching sides in the heated debate. He has denied that is the case.

"The votes aren't there," Rubio said. "You're going to have to deal with the border first. Otherwise we're going to continue to beat our head against a wall here for another decade without any changes or any progress being made."

Rubio’s potential 2016 rivals such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who voted against the overhaul that Rubio helped write, have taken a harder line on immigration.

Rubio was in New Hampshire to help raise money for Brown’s campaign and the two also appeared together at an event to criticize U.S. foreign policy and the 2011 withdrawal of troops in Iraq.

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