Under fire, Rubio meets the press in Tampa

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While looking at ABC 28's Brendan McLaughlin who asked the question, he added, "I also find it ironic that I have a bunch of non-Cuban exiles telling Cuban exiles what a Cuban exile is," he said while maintaining his cool.

More interesting to CL is the fissure between Rubio and the very Chamber of Commerce group that he was a guest of on Thursday. Earlier this year Rubio had filed an amendment to a transportation bill that would have denied allowing Tampa International Airport to become a port of entry and exit for Cuban travel. He later dropped that amendment, and those flights began last month out of TIA.

Prior to the Obama administration allowing other airports to begin direct service to Cuba, only Miami, Los Angeles and New York City offered direct flights to Havana. Rubio denied that he opposed Tampa and other airports getting those flights and not those emanating from his home area of Miami, but he said today he has opposed all such flights.

There have also been reports that Rubio had engaged in tough words with members of both the Tampa and state Chamber of Commerce about discussions in recent years about allowing more trade with the Communist island. CL quoted back to the Senator a poll commissioned by the Chamber earlier this year (from Hamilton Campaigns) that showed that 60 percent of Hillsborough County residents favored lifting the embargo with Cuba to allow free trade and travel there.

Rubio said he understood the sentiment, but respectfully disagreed.

"I view it a different way. I've been consistent on it, and I'll explain why. Just this Saturday I had a conversation on the phone with two different dissidents who are now members of the resistance in Cuba. They're brutally repressed. They're beaten, jailed, house arrest....all they want is the opportunity to speak out, to complain against the government. They'd like to have elections the way everyone else in the Western Hemisphere has. Now how do you guys think they pay for that? How does the Cuban government pay for the agents, the political policemen that repress dissidents and the resistance on the island? They pay for it primarily and a lot of it from the money they get from U.S. travelers. From people who travel to Cuba, they pay exorbitant fees on these flights. And that money is used to fund a repressive regime."

Under the "wet foot, dry foot" rule that has been the law of the land since 1966, if a Cuban who escapes his or her country get sat least one foot on U.S soil, they are allowed legal residency in the U.S. But Miami Republican Congressman David Rivera is supporting amending that law, believing that some Cubans are exploiting it. Senator Rubio said today that he has mixed feelings about it, and welcomes the debate.

Rubio, along with his hawkish GOP allies in the Senate like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, were critical of Barack Obama for not intervening soon enough in Libya this past spring. However, once NATO was all in and the Arab League asked for help, the U.S. became involved, and with the death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, some political analysts are applauding Obama for "mission accomplished."

But not Rubio.

Like his colleagues, even a U.S. foreign policy success is ripe for criticism of Obama. Upon being asked by CL if it was impossible to give Obama some credit, the Senator deflected that, saying the Libyan people should get credit, and then listed all the reasons why the U.S. should have been involved militarily sooner.

"It's not about credit. You want an honest observation? Here's my honest observation: once we decided to engage, we should have engaged earlier and decisively. The conflict would have ended a lot sooner."

He said because the U.S. delayed, it will cost the Libyan people more time and money to rebuild their country, and that there are "thousands upon thousands" of Libyans who, instead of working, now need rehabilitation and prosthetics because of their injuries. He also said that there are now armed militias that have emerged, all because of the U.S. delay.

But, CL countered, asking weren't there many Republicans who didn't want the U.S. to be involved at all?
"Agreed," he responded. "And I disagreed with them. But once they made the decision to go in, you have to go in decisively."

In his discussions with the Chamber, Rubio didn't stray from his usual comments about the economy, energy, nor about Medicare and Medicaid. Rubio gave the Paul Ryan line that he thinks that Medicare will go bankrupt unless serious reform is done, and says that it should be changed for those under 55 years of age. And he said he favors making Medicaid a block grant to the states.

  • Marco Rubio & Tampa Chamber of Commerce President Bob Rohrlack

Marco Rubio hasn't been to Tampa much since being elected as the state's junior U.S. Senator nearly a year ago, so members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce had lots of issues to discuss with him at a business lunch this afternoon at the University Club in downtown Tampa.

However, for members of the media, it was getting a crack at him afterwards that made it worth their while.

Unless you've been overseas or have ignored the news in the past week, you know that the term "son of Cuban exiles" doesn't really work when describing the 40-year-old Rubio, not after the St. Petersburg Times and Washington Post began investigating when his parents actually left Cuba. He has said in the past it was after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, but documents revealed by those papers found that Mario and Oriales Rubio arrived in the United States, legally on an immigration visa, much earlier — in May 1956.

"The bottom line is that I got the dates wrong because they happened 15 years before I was even born," he said at a press conference in the Chamber's offices after the lunch.ABC 28's Brendan McLaughlin.

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