OXON Hill, Md. — Sen. Marco Rubio took another step in erasing the damage of his role in immigration reform, receiving a warm reception Friday at the annual CPAC gathering here while suggesting the comprehensive approach he once championed was a mistake.
Rubio, who has been walking back his role in helping write the 2013 Senate bill, was aided by criticism of President Barack Obama’s executive action to protect millions of undocumented residents from deportation, getting applause for blasting it as an abuse of constitutional authority.
But when pressed on the issue, the Florida Republican said: “It’s a serious problem” that needs to be dealt with.
Rubio played up a border security first approach, saying the American public won’t trust additional reforms until they see more security.
Then, he said, there could be a “reasonable conversation,” about the rest, glossing over the contentious issue of the millions of people living here illegally. (They can’t be rounded up and deported, he told a questioner last week in New Hampshire.)
Introduced by Sean Hannity as a “great tea party conservative,” Rubio worked in a crowd-pleasing hit on Common Core, saying the country does not need a national school board. He blasted an “Obama-Clinton” foreign policy he said means “enemies no longer fear us.” He called for an aggressive approach to wipe out the Islamic state.
At the end, moderator Sean Hannity asked Rubio a series of quick questions. Colorado pot? Against legalization, Rubio replied, differing from Sen. Ted Cruz, who said he disagrees with weed but states should decide.
Hillary Clinton? “Yesterday.”
Barack Obama? “Failed.”
Hannity asked Rubio about running for president and Rubio deflected with his standard line about trying to find the best place to serve the country. He offered the crowd his emotional homage to his Cuban immigrant parents.
“America doesn’t owe me anything,” Rubio said. “But I have a debt to America that I will never be able to pay.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the CPAC gathering later Friday.