WASHINGTON -- Marco Rubio, the GOP’s most prominent Latino officeholder, defended Mitt Romney’s approach to immigration as one of a “mature and serious political leader,” saying the principles he has outlined are in line with the majority of Americans.
The Florida senator, speaking with reporters at a breakfast gathering hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, also condemned the Obama administration for its week-old order halting deportation of young illegal immigrants, saying the president “injected election-year politics into an issue that privately I thought we were making progress on.”
Rubio, who had been working on developing his own version of the Dream Act in the Senate, questioned why the administration has never reached out to him.
“If you’re really serious about finding a solution to these problems, don’t you work with people who are interested in this? If you’re really interested in a bipartisan solution and if you read in the newspaper that there’s a Republican senator working on the idea, don’t you reach out to them and say, 'Hey how does your idea work?'” he said. “It shows they’re not really serious about finding a bipartisan solution. They’re interested in a talking point.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about Rubio’s comment at his daily press briefing, said that Obama “has made it clear that he is very interested in a legislative solution to this issue,” and has “broadly reached out to members of Congress” in hoping to do so. He also criticized Romney for saying he would veto the Dream Act.
Rubio repeatedly stressed the need to put aside politics to address the immigration issue, even as he acknowledged that might be a naïve notion. He said he was taking a more methodical approach in hopes of finding common ground, saying if his offering “immediately triggers a partisan war and name-calling, I set the cause back even further than it’s already been set back.”
The Florida senator did address his party’s struggles with Latino voters, saying that more needs to be done to make clear that Republicans are pro-immigration, not just anti-illegal immigration. But he defended Romney, who had staked out a hard-line position in the Republican primaries but has since appeared to be recalibrating his approach in light of Obama’s move.
“I don’t think he has struggled to articulate his position. He supports legal immigration and anything he can do to improve the legal immigration system. He’s said very clearly he supports legal immigration, he thinks it’s important for our future,” Rubio said. “He doesn’t have an immigration bill, per se, but neither does the president. … [But] this is not an issue that’s easily solved on the campaign trail.”
Romney’s approach has shown he is a “very mature and serious political leader” who understands that as president he’s going to have to balance competing views to come up with a solution.
Rubio said Democrats do have a short-term advantage with Latino voters, and that immigration is a “gateway issue” to attracting the growing demographic. But he sees a growing pool of Latinos who are going to be up for grabs.
“What we should focus on is the growing number of Hispanic voters in key states like Florida, Virginia, Iowa, North Carolina and others that are much more open-minded, that do not have a long-standing geographic allegiance to one political party or an ideology, who vote for the candidate, not the party,” he said.
Rubio declined to comment at all on his status, or lack thereof, as a potential running mate for Romney in November. Romney this week said the first-term lawmaker is being seriously considered, disputing reports that he was not on his short list.
Rubio, who is out with a new autobiography, also told reporters Thursday morning that he was skipping a weekend retreat hosted by Romney that includes a number of prospective running mates because he wanted to spend time with his family after a string of consecutive days away from home on his promotional book tour.