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The Next America - Politics 2012 / Politics

The Continuing Education of Sen. Rubio

Analysis: Possible veep pick weighs in directly and with nuance on several issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks off the Senate floor in May, today said, "For Hispanics, immigration is not a statistical debate. It is an issue regarding someone they know, and probably someone they love."

photo of John Aloysius  Farrell
June 21, 2012

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. looked none the worse for wear at breakfast Thursday  morning, considering the pounding he's been getting in the angry seas of presidential politics.

First, President Obama coolly pre-empted Rubio's heralded efforts to draft a version of the Dream Act that would appeal to both Hispanic voters and the GOP's conservative base.

Then the press reported that Rubio was off - then back on - but maybe not actually - Mitt Romney's list of potential running mates.

 

This week's publication of Rubio's new autobiography, An American Son, meanwhile, has been met by the release of a competing biography, both of which allow that Rubio's parents were not actually refugees who fled Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba, as the senator has intimated over the years.

But if Rubio is feeling the stress, the 41-year-old freshman from Florida isn't showing it. Aside from a restless jiggling of his leg beneath the table, he was his usual ebullient, smooth-spoken self.

Rubio joined the growing number of Republicans in Congress who have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal.

"I don't see how the attorney general can exercise that office with any credibility," he said, a day after Holder was held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents from a Republican-controlled committee in the House.

And on the same day that Romney promised to staple a green card to any advanced degree earned by an immigrant in the USA, and reward those who serve in the U.S. military with citizenship, Rubio did his own best to help Romney creep back from the more extreme position that the GOP nominee took during the party primaries.

When asked at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast if Romney's reliance on "self-deportation" was a policy he agreed with, Rubio differed with the questioner.

"I have never understood self-deportation and what the governor has presented as a policy," Rubio said. "It's not a policy. It's an observation of what people will do in a country that's enforcing its immigration laws."

Romney shares Rubio's convictions that immigration is a complex issue that needs to be "significantly de-politicized," the senator said. The White House, he said, made the Dream Act campaign fodder and is exploiting the fears of undocumented immigrants.

"For Hispanics, immigration is not a statistical debate. It is an issue regarding someone they know, and probably someone they love," Rubio said. "If you are Hispanic, living in an Hispanic neighborhood, you know someone who is undocumented, you know a kid who has been here since they were 5 years old but has a deportation order even though they were valedictorian of their school."

"You know someone who is here undocumented and...you know why?" said Rubio, growing more passionate. "Because their kids are hungry and they are sending money home to feed them."

"I'm not looking for a bumper sticker," the senator said. "I'm looking to help real human beings, as many as 800,000 real kids who needed a bill that works."

It was a difficult, time-consuming task, and Obama got there first, leaving Rubio's long labors irrelevant. But rush was not an option. "If I introduce a piece of legislation and it immediately triggers a partisan war and name calling, I set back the cause," he said.

Obama and his aides would not help, nor wait. "This White House didn't reach out," Rubio said. "If you're really serious about finding a solution to this problem, don't you work with the people interested in this? If you're really interested in a bipartisan solution and you read in the newspaper that there is a Republican senator working on an idea, don't you reach out to them?

"That never happened....They're not really serious," Rubio said. "They're interested in a talking point."

Rubio was sounding ingenuous. Did he really expect bipartisan solicitude from a Democratic White House, five months before the election? Yes, he said, and so had learned a lesson.

"I was hoping this issue could be elevated above politics," Rubio said. "Obviously...I was pretty naive."

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