After the issue is settled, he says, Americans can debate how Big Government, Obama-style, is hurting everybody, especially Hispanics and minorities
The Washington Examiner sat down with Sen. Marco Rubio to discuss the politics of immigration reform, the Florida Republican's approach to governing and his political future.
Examiner: Many conservatives are disappointed that you're supporting legislation that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Rubio: I don't think you want to live in a country where you have millions and millions of people that are here permanently but can never become U.S. citizens. Why would we want to prevent someone who loves America from becoming an American -- one day, down the road and in the future? All I'm trying to do is create a process where that can happen responsibly. It's not perfect; I wish we didn't have this problem. I didn't create the 11 million. That was done by many of the same people that are now screaming at us -- were around in 1986 when the mistakes were made that led to this. All I'm trying to do is solve this problem and make sure it never happens again.
Examiner: You've maintained immigration reform isn't about politics. But is there no political calculation?
Rubio: Big Government, Obama-style, is hurting Hispanics and minorities worse than anybody in the country. ... The problem that I face and that [Republicans] face, is that when we try to talk about those issues, the Democrats don't even have to engage us in that debate, they just point to immigration and they say, 'But these people hate you, these people want to get rid of you, and they want to get rid of people that you love.' It's not true, it's not fair, but they've been successful. So to the extent that that will no longer be something they can use to divert people's attention, to the extent that now that this issue will be off the table we can start having a debate about how Big Government hurts all Americans, especially those of Hispanic descent, I think that will be a net positive over time. As far as political calculus personally is concerned. ... The people that succeed most at future ambitions or whatever are largely the people that sometimes just avoid doing anything. They come here, they give speeches, they do fundraising appeals, they write letters, they grab headlines, but they don't get involved in actually solving problems. If someone was interested in their political future, only, that might be the direction that you went, and some people counsel that. I just personally have a problem with that.
Examiner: Talk about the future of the Republican Party.
Rubio: In the end, it's not about the Republican Party. To me, it's about conservatism. What does limited government conservatism mean in the 21st century? ... Obama's policies are going to be a disaster. By the end of his term, I predict he'll be more unpopular than George W. Bush was at the end of his. ... When that happens, and that's already happening, people are going to look for an alternative -- what else is there [than the GOP]? And I think if conservatism is just 'not Obama,' we're just not him, then I think we'll win some elections. But I think that if we are an alternative, if we're not just 'not Obama' but we're actually an alternative, and alternative vision about what the appropriate role for government is in the economy and in our lives, if we can offer that to people, we won't just win some elections, we'll actually get a chance to govern.
Examiner: Is conservatism at a crossroads?
Rubio: It depends on the issue. ... There is danger in disengaging from our global obligations because they end up visiting us. ... While it may look like a distant conflict that has nothing to do with us, if that thing implodes, it's going to impact us in a bad way, and absent American leadership around the world. ... that vacuum leads to chaos, and in that chaotic environment, that's how Iran wins, that's how North Korea wins, that's how al Qaeda wins, that's how radical Islamist terrorists win.
Examiner: Is it unfair to consider you a potential presidential candidate in 2016?
Rubio: At some point next year, I'm going to have to make a decision: Do I want to continue to serve in the Senate; do I want to run for something else, or do I want to give someone else a chance serve? At some point next year I'll have to make that decision about what I want to do next. And I'm not there yet. ... Right now, what I'm focused on being the best Senator that I can and what I've learned is that if you do a good job at the job you have, you'll always have a chance to do other things, even things you hadn't anticipated.
DAVID Drucker Senior Congressional Correspondent