Feb 23, 2015 10:16 PM
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
CONCORD - The last thing Marco Rubio said at his first stop in New Hampshire was very telling.
"I'm grateful that you would come here to listen to me this afternoon, and I look forward to coming back again and talking to you many, many more times," the Republican senator from Florida told the audience at town-hall style event at the Lawrence Barn Community Center in Hollis.
Rubio says he will decide on a run for the White House come springtime, but as he kicked off a two-day swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state, he was sounding more and more like a presidential candidate.
Rubio defended his stance on immigration reform, said he opposed a clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and in a one-on-one interview with NH1, he weighed in on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's controversial comments that President Obama doesn't' love America, which has become the latest litmus test for potential GOP presidential contenders.
"I have a lot of admiration for Rudy Giuliani, and he has a right to his opinions and he has a right to voice those opinions. But at the end of the day, I believe the President loves his country, I just think his ideas are bad for America," Rubio said.
Asked about his timetable for deciding on whether to launch a campaign for the GOP nomination in 2016 or run for re-election as senator, Rubio told NH1 that "running for president of this country requires you to come, for example, to New Hampshire on numerous occasions and meet with voters, one on one numerous times. It's like a real job interview in that sense. And to do that you need the time, the sufficient time to be able to get out there and do that. So our goal is to make that decision during the spring, and in fact if we decide to run for president, to run hard, and run to win."
If Rubio does run for the White House, which is looking more and more likely, he would most likely be part of a crowded field of candidates that could also include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who's taking concrete steps towards launching a presidential campaign.
Asked how he would feel about facing off against his good friend and mentor, Rubio said "I certainly have a lot of admiration for Gov. Bush. He's very intelligent, very hard working. I have a lot of personal affection for him and his family as well. But if I ran it wouldn't be against him, it would be because I believe I have something unique to contribute to the county at this time in its history."
While the GOP field is expected to include many governors and former governors, like Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Rubio thinks his party may be better served if someone with strong foreign policy credentials ends up as the nominee.
"I would say foreign policy today is more complicated, more intricate than it's ever been," Rubio said. "It's important to have a wide perspective on these sorts of things, an intricate knowledge about them, so that you can have good judgment, and a record of passing judgment on these issues that voters can look at."
This is Rubio's first trip to New Hampshire since last year's midterm elections, and it come just a couple of weeks after he hired veteran New Hampshire GOP consultant Jim Merrill as a senior adviser for his Reclaim America Super PAC in New Hampshire and Northeast.
The visit comes just a couple of days before Friday's deadline to fund DHS. As Rubio was in New Hampshire, a fourth attempt in the Senate failed to block a Democratic filibuster over a bill approved by the GOP dominated House of Representatives. That DHS funding measure includes language would block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. Democrats and the White House are insisting on a clean funding bill.
Rubio said he opposes such a move, telling NH1 that "it's actually the Democrats who are messing with the funding, they are the ones who are filibustering."
"I think we need to stop the executive action, the latest executive action the President's made, and we should not give up trying," Rubio added. "In addition to violating the principles of separations of powers, it's going to have very significant and unintended consequences. And it undermines efforts to add real immigration reform to this country."
Rubio was once considered a leading contender for the 2016 nomination, but his strong support for a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 hurt him with many conservatives, who make up the base of the GOP. The bill, which included a pathway to citizenship for many of the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., never saw the light of day in the House, and Rubio's numbers in 2016 polling came tumbling down.
While Rubio has worked hard over the past year and a half to repair the political damage, this is New Hampshire, where voters relish their ability to meet and question presidential candidates. So the senator's immigration stance was once again put in the spotlight.
"When I first heard of you, I liked you a lot, but then you lost me on immigration. But I'm back to give you another chance. My question to you is can you commit if elected president to sending home every single person that's violated our country's laws that's here illegally," asked a member of the audience, which numbered around 100.
Rubio quickly answered, saying "I don't think anyone can commit that to you. You have 12 million human beings in America, most of them we don't even know who they are. And some of them our country's not going to tolerate rounding up and sending back. That's not a realistic proposal. I will tell you what I'll commit to, and the first thing I'll commit to is what we should be doing right now, and that's to create systems to be able to enforce our immigration laws that we don't have in place."
Rubio added that he supports beefing up border security, enhancing the ability track people who overstay their work visas, and implementing verification systems for employers.
After taking questions for more than 45 minutes, Rubio headed to the Barnes and Noble in Manchester to autograph copies of his book "American Dreams." Tuesday Rubio meets with young Republicans before headlining the latest "Politics and Eggs" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
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