NALEO Conference: Marco Rubio is angry with Obama and the politics of immigration
Rubio said both parties to blame for the toxic politics of immigration, but singled out President Obama.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. —Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is steaming mad about the issue of immigration. Rubio, the Cuban-American wunderkind and potential running mate of Mitt Romney, took to the stage at NALEO Friday to lament the political polarization of the immigration issue by Republicans, Democrats, and the news media as well. But at the same time, he singled out President Obama for criticism, saying he used it in an election-year maneuver to win Latino votes.
Rubio took aim at President Obama, who will address the audience soon afterward, for his executive action to halt temporarily deportations for up to 1.4 million undocumented immigrants and his treatment of the Latino community.
“I was tempted today and rip open the policies of the administration. And in a few moments, we’ll hear from the president. I was tempted to come here and tell you, ‘hey, he hasn’t been here in three years. What a coincidence, it’s an election year,’” he said, drawing a smattering of applause. “I was tempted to come here and tell you, why didn’t he make this issue a priority.
“But, that’s not the direction I want to go with my speech. Because if I did … then I would be doing the same exact thing I just criticized,” he added, drawing some laughs from the crowd.
The president’s decision on deportations undercut a similar proposal Rubio had worked for months to craft, that would have issued nonimmigrant visas to undocumented youth seeking military service or a higher education. Rubio’s proposed bill was akin to a pared-down version of the long-staled DREAM Act, which would have granted a special pathway to citizenship for those young people.
The proposal doubled as a political challenge to Obama on the immigration issue, which he failed to tackle during his first term, rankling some supporters and immigration activists.
Rubio — who long decried the politics of immigration — expressed stupor at the fact that some on the left criticized his proposal, which was never released, but cheered the president’s action. While Rubio claimed he was not acting out of political expediency in an election year, he accused Obama of only addressing immigration and the Latino community when it suits him politically.
“Of course, a few months later, the president takes a similar idea and implements it through executive action and now it’s the greatest idea in the world,” he said.
“I wasn’t looking for a talking point, I wasn’t looking to influence the election. I was looking to help these kids that I had met,” he said. “I don’t care who gets credit, I don’t. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics to some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans too.”
The senator said that Republicans, without naming any, focus too heavily on immigration enforcement and use the dark side of illegal immigration as a powerful political weapon among their base. He also rapped Democrats for demagoging opponents of a special pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as “anti-immigrant” or “anti-Hispanic.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said.
Rubio’s address came a day after Romney’s, who lobbed similar accusations at the president that he had ignored immigration and taken his Latino support for granted. But Romney faces an uphill climb to chip away at Obama’s Latino support; a new poll released Friday showed the president’s leading his GOP opponent by wide margins in battleground states.
The senator dismissed the news media’s focus on the political savvy of Obama’s new policy. He also opened the curtain behind the difficult time he had selling action on immigration to members of Congress, a reason that the president has also cited for the lack of progress under his administration.
“There were too many scars, too much pain, too many people had been beat up about what had happened for or five years before. I tried to raise the issue, but people said, ‘look, I just don’t want to go there,’” he said. “It wasn’t just Republicans, it was senators who had been burned by the way this issue was discussed and approached and didn’t want to talk about it before.”
One Democratic official who was in the room praised the fact Rubio had attempted to pass a solution, but said that politics is only part of the reason for the lack of progress on immigration.
“Some of it is unfortunate timing, some of it is other demands of the nation. And some of it, unfortunately, is politics,” Utah State Sen. Ross Romero told Univision News.
Others were more skeptical.
“Sen. Rubio should know that if he wants to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform, you work with the president and the leadership and you don’t criticize them,” said Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D).
In terms of moving forward on a solution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Rubio says that he hasn’t settled on a solution, saying it rests between the extremes of mass deportations or issuing a special pathway to citizenship en masse.
“Here’s the truth, if we’re honest with ourselves. We don’t know yet. It’s not easy,” Rubio said.
“As long as this issue of immigration is a political ping pong that each each side uses to win elections and influence votes, I’m telling you it won’t get solved,” he added.