Young, telegenic and Hispanic, Marco Rubio was talked about as a future presidential candidate within days of his election to the Senate in 2010. That buzz has died down over the past four years, as have Rubio’s ties to the tea party movement, but his entry into the 2016 race for the White House puts him into the top tier of Republican contenders.
The son of Cuban immigrants and a popular figure in the crucial swing state of Florida, Rubio presents himself as a hard-working fiscal conservative with plenty of government experience — he spent most of his 30s in the state House, departing after two years as speaker. He was vetted as a possible running mate to Mitt Romney in 2012, and shortly after the election, polls of Republicans showed Rubio as the favorite possible GOP presidential nominee for 2016.
His biggest challenges may be immigration — he favors a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, anathema to many conservatives — and the fact they he might end up running against his political mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“He’s got all the tools,” Bush told National Review magazine in 2009, when Rubio was an underdog Senate candidate. “He’s charismatic and has the right principles.” Bolstering his policy credentials, Rubio has formulated a plan he thinks will help keep Social Security solvent by exempting retirees from payroll taxes, and he has co-authored a plan to overhaul and simplify the tax code, reducing the number of tax brackets to two and establishing a $2,500 child tax credit while doing away with many other credits and deductions.
Immigration is a central issue, and Rubio was part of a bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of eight” that, in 2013, produced an overhaul bill. The version that passed the Senate that year would have augmented border security, revamped employment-based immigration and expanded use of the E-Verify employment verification system. Most notably, it would have allowed illegal immigrants already in the county to apply for probationary legal status and eventually seek citizenship. The bill went nowhere in the House, however.
Immigration aside, it’s difficult to argue that Rubio is anything other than a conservative. In the past he opposed increases to the federal debt limit and favored the strategy that led to a government shutdown in October 2013 — refusing to appropriate funds for implementation of the 2010 health care law. He also voted against a long-term reauthorization of farm and nutrition programs, calling it too sprawling and expensive.
On defense and foreign policy he is a hawk, favoring stronger measures to counter the Islamic State terror group in the Middle East and distrust of Iran’s rulers.
Rubio was born in Miami. Earlier in his career, he described his parents as Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s regime. The Washington Post reported in 2011, though, that Rubio’s mother and father left the island for Florida more than two and half years before Castro took power. Rubio said his version was based on family oral history
The family moved to Las Vegas when Rubio was 8, and he converted to Mormonism along with his mother. They later returned to both Miami and Catholicism. Rubio spent one year at Tarkio College in Missouri on a football scholarship before transferring to a community college in Florida. He eventually earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and a law degree from the University of Miami. An internship with Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led to a political career.
When Rubio announced his Senate candidacy in 2009, he was a long shot against Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. However, Crist’s lack of devotion to core Republican principles and endorsement of Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus package didn’t sit well with conservatives. Rubio also got a lift from the tea party movement.
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