SALEM, N.H. – Senator Marco Rubio defended his conservative credentials on two issues that are roiling the right – immigration and trade – as he returned to the campaign trail on Thursday.
[Reposted from The New York Times | Jeremy Peters | June 25, 2015]
The Florida Republican, who had taken a breather from campaigning as he crisscrossed the country on a fund-raising tour, had not taken questions from the public since casting a decisive vote on Tuesday that allowed President Obama’s trade bill to advance in the Senate.
Some conservatives, who objected to giving Mr. Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord and derided the legislation as “Obamatrade,” blamed Mr. Rubio for providing a crucial 60th vote that assured the legislation could move forward. Others accused Mr. Rubio of not even reading the bill.
In a town-hall-style meeting here on Thursday, Mr. Rubio was asked to explain himself.
“There’s been some controversy on whether or not you actually read the bill,” one woman pressed him. “Why did you vote for it?”
“First of all,” he said, “I did read the bill. Second of all, it’s not Obamatrade. It’s called free trade.” To further underscore his point, he invoked a conservative hero: “We voted on fast-track authority, which Ronald Reagan was for.”
Whether Mr. Rubio was convincing or not was unclear. The crowd of about 200, which applauded politely on and off during the hour-long event, was not particularly enthusiastic.
He was also asked to clarify his position on overhauling immigration, an issue that still dogs him with many on the right, two years after he dropped his support for a comprehensive Senate bill that would have provided undocumented immigrants with the opportunity to become citizens.
Mr. Rubio was unequivocal. He said he no longer supported one sweeping, omnibus bill, adding, “Anyone who insists on doing it all at once is basically out of touch with reality.”
Instead, Congress must first pass a law that provides for greater border security, then prove that illegal immigration is under control. Otherwise, he said, “the votes aren’t there — the public won’t support it.”
Many in the crowd did not seem too familiar with Mr. Rubio, 44, who announced his campaign for president in April and quickly shot to the top of many polls. Several of the questioners seemed interested in testing his conservatism.
Mr. Rubio spoke less than two hours after the Supreme Court upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows for the federal health care exchange to provide coverage in states that have not set up their own exchanges. The decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., an appointee of President George W. Bush, angered many conservatives.
One man in the crowd asked, “What are you going to do differently from the past two Republican presidents, who gave us Souter and Roberts?” (David Souter, a former justice appointed by the first President Bush, often voted with the court’s liberal wing.)
Mr. Rubio responded that he would appoint “people that will actually interpret and apply the Constitution, not expand and redefine it.” He added that his understanding of the Constitution was fixed. “The Constitution is not a living and breathing document,” he said, noting that the next president could appoint as many as three Supreme Court judges.