Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered a sweeping repudiation of President Barack Obama’s governing philosophy in a primetime response to his State of the Union speech.
Rubio painted Obama as a free-spending politician who does not understand free enterprise. He said the president believes that business is the “cause of our problems” rather than the engine of job creation.
Obama feels “that the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s selection to deliver the State of the Union rebuttal highlights his growing stature. It also reflects an attempt to unite the two wings of the Republican party. Rubio is a darling of both the party Establishment and the more conservative tea party representatives.
His performance Tuesday seemed to be going well until he suffered a case of dry mouth, and lunged to take a swig from a bottle of water a few feet away. The camera followed him, causing a momentary rocking sensation as though he were on a boat. Some analysts suggested the “Big Gulp,” as it was being called would be remembered more than the content of the speech. Minutes after it was over, Rubio’s official Twitter account posted a photo of the accommodating Poland Spring bottle.
Rubio’s rebuttal was filmed at the U.S. Capitol in the House Speaker’s conference room.
In his speech, the 41-year-old first-term senator, the son of Cuban immigrants, spoke of his father, who took work as a bartender, and his mother, as a cashier and maid, after coming to America.
“I didn’t inherit any money from them,” he said. “But I inherited something far better – the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams.”
Rubio may appeal to the crucial Hispanic vote, of which Obama captured 71 percent to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent.
But anyone who expected he would use his spotlight Tuesday to push for a comprehensive rewrite of immigration law guessed wrong. His speech contained only a brief reference that emphasized enforcement over opportunity.
“We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest,” he said. “We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
Rubio’s speech seemed to be a response to Obama’s portrayal of Republicans during the presidential election and ensuing budget battles with Congress as out of touch with the typical American.
“Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy,” Rubio said
Obama’s answer for Rubio’s neighbors — from tax increases for the rich to continued deficit spending — hurt the middle class, Rubio said.
“It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”
Rubio spoke of entitlement programs, and the lifeline they provide to seniors, in several places in his speech. Yet he argued that their runaway costs are some of the “biggest obstacles to balancing the budget.”
“One of these programs, Medicare, is especially important to me. It provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately to die with dignity. And it pays for the care my mother receives right now. I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother,” he said. “But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.”
His speech mixed empathy and reality. And Rubio weaved in some red meat, claiming Obamacare, the health care law hated by many conservatives, is causing businesses to lay off workers. He also referenced Solyndra, the California solar company that went belly up after getting a $535 million investment from the Obama administration.
“Of course, solar and wind energy should be a part of our energy portfolio. But God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas,” Rubio said, urging more drilling.
The nation is at a crossroads, Rubio said. This generation will decide whether it meets its promise or falls into decline.
“Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America. I pray we can come together to solve our problems, because the choices before us could not be more important,” he said. “If we can get our economy healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation responsible for America’s decline.”