He followed it with a five-page open letter to conservatives that began, “Dear friends.”
On Thursday, Rubio went for an emotional strike, telling the story of his Cuban-born parents’ early struggles to make it in America; the paper his father carried around that read “I am looking for work.”
They were some of the first English words his father learned, Rubio said, providing new detail in a family story that has been the heart of speeches from his time in the Florida House to his rise as a national figure.
“Sometimes, we focus so much on how immigrants could change America, that we forget that America changes immigrants even more,” said Rubio, 42.
Not long after, senators entered the chamber and sat at their desks for the vote, presided over by Vice President Joe Biden. Rubio rose, buttoned his jacket and added his “aye.” The no votes from other potential 2016 presidential candidates, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, did not go unnoticed.
The pitfalls were clear to Rubio and his political advisors when he decided to jump into the debate and join the Gang of 8. He had a strategy: Flood the conservative airwaves and news columns to talk about the bill, disarming critics with his accessibility and personality. It wasn’t a clear success but the tone has been markedly less heated than 2007, a shift that also owes to the GOP establishment’s desire to improve its standing with a growing Hispanic electorate.
Rubio’s record otherwise is decidedly conservative, opposing budget deals and calling for the repeal of the healthcare law. “He’s with us on most issues,” Kirby said. “Of course we don’t know how this immigration thing will turnout. If it’s killed, a lot of people will forget and move on. That’s the way he comes back.”
The same Washington Post poll that showed Rubio’s standing among Republicans had fallen showed gains among Democrats. The bipartisan stripes he has earned could be a calling card in a future campaign. Rubio says he won’t decide whether to run for president until next year.
He and his political team seem to have calculated he can outlast any short-term political fallout.
“He’s proven he’s not an ideologue,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Gang of 8 member. “He’s using his political capital for the common good. … This will only enhance him.”
Contact Alex Leary at email@example.com.