Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) indicated at this morning’s Conservative Political Action Conference that if he decides to run for president he’ll focus squarely on that instead of a backup plan to stay in the Senate.
But he demurred on where he is in the decision-making process, refusing to answer Sean Hannity’s question on where that decision is on a scale of 1-100.
The senator did stress why he would run for the highest office in the land.
“America doesn’t owe me anything, but I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay,” Rubio told the CPAC crowd, elaborating on the history of his parents’ immigration from Cuba. “For me, America isn’t just a country, it’s the place that literally changed the history of my family.”
Now, he asked, “What kind of country we are going to be?”
“Sometimes you wouldn’t know we’re an exceptional nation by listening to the left… by listening to the president,” Rubio said. “When was the last time you heard about a boatload of American refugees arriving on the shores of another country?”
“God is still blessing America,” he said, but “our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us” as President Obama “treats the ayatollah in Iran with more respect than the prime minister of Israel.”
“Today our nation is on the road to decline,” but “we are one election away from triggering another American century.”
Rubio stressed the need for regulatory reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and placing a focus not just on college but vocational training. “We shouldn’t be stigmatizing those vocational careers,” he said. “…Not everyone should be forced to get a four-year degree in order to find a job.”
He advocated a Sunni force including Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and other nations in the region to take the fight to the Islamic State, “and you will wipe ISIS out.”
“Imagine if we had a president who understood that the way to defeat ISIS is not to find them a job,” the senator said.
On President Obama’s immigration executive actions, Rubio stressed that it’s not a question of policy but of constitutional authority. Noting that he wants to cut taxes but wouldn’t approve of doing it unilaterally, he said, “I don’t know where [Obama] suddenly found the constitutional power to do this.”
Rubio also addressed critics of his participation in the Senate Group of Eight that forged an immigration reform compromise.
“It wasn’t very popular; I don’t know if you know that from some of the folks here,” he quipped.
He said the comprehensive agreement addressed problems that must by tackled, including visa overstays, more fencing needed along the border, and an immigration system that “can’t continue to be based on family alone” but brings in more highly skilled workers.
Rubio said he learned from the process. “What I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation” about legalizing those currently in the country illegally “until future immigration is brought under control.”
The only way people will agree to a step-by-step immigration reform is if the government follows through on the first steps, he said. “The only way forward … you can’t just tell people we’re going to secure the border, we’re going to get e-Verify, you have to do it.”
Asked about how the GOP caucus is performing in the Senate, Rubio cited a “dispute” between those who think the job is about managing the government rather than improving the system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has addressed the conference in past years, is not a speaker at this CPAC.
On 2016, Rubio said he hasn’t “made that decision yet” and must “decide through careful prayer.” He added “I don’t want to be in politics my whole life” — quipping he’d like to do other things like maybe own an NFL team.
The senator even got in his standard water joke, a self-deprecating reference to his notorious sip in his 2013 State of the Union response. Hannity noted that some of the sleepy morning crowd may have stayed up too late last night drinking. “There’s nothing wrong with drinking, Sean,” Rubio said as he took a swig of water.
Rubio faced a lightning round for his quick reaction to a few names:
Hillary Clinton? “Yesterday.”
Bill Clinton? “Really yesterday.”