In a Fox News Latino Exclusive interview, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says he agrees with the 90 percent of Latinos who support the Dream Act -which allows young people who grew up in the U.S. and are in school or the military to become citizens.
So why does he agree with Republicans who voted down the Dream Act when it came to a vote in the House last December?
In the interview the son of Cuban immigrants told me the proposed law, written by Democrats, would have allowed for “chain migration” of 3 to 4 million of the young people’s relatives. He is reportedly considering proposing a version of the Dream Act that blocks deportation of those young people but does not give them citizenship.
The senator’s uneasy straddle on the Dream Act is similar to his attempt to ride the fence on immigration reform. He supports tough new laws passed by Republicans in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina to allow police to demand proof of citizenship – arguably exposing all Latinos to harassment based on racial and ethnic profiling.
In that case, the senator said he stands with the Republicans who put the laws in place because local officials are reflecting their constituents’ frustration at the lack of federal action on immigration reform. But he wants the federal government to take the lead.
The young senator’s difficult tap dance with the Dream Act and immigration reform is more than one politician’s problem. Sen. Rubio, the son of Cuban American immigrants, is every Republican’s first choice to be the vice presidential nominee in 2012. His presence on the Republican ticket is potentially a game-changer with Hispanics now the fastest growing segment of American voters and with a large presence in swing states, such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
Rubio could also help Romney with conservatives because of his ties to the far-right Tea Party. Rubio is also working with republicans in congress, including Senators in states with large immigrant populations, to write an immigration reform proposal that could win support of a majority of Republicans.
The pressure for a Romney-Rubio ticket grew in recent days after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, and also went public with his preference for Rubio to be on the GOP ticket. Rubio contributed to political buzz when he quickly followed Bush’s lead with his own endorsement of Romney.
“Marco Rubio is living proof that the American dream is still very much alive,” Romney said in a release thanking Rubio for the endorsement.
In February, a national Fox News Latino poll found that 24 percent of likely Latino voters said they are more likely to vote Republican if Senator Rubio is on the ticket.
But Rubio, on the night he endorsed Romney, insisted to me he will not accept an invitation to run with Romney. I asked him if he might change his mind if Romney and other GOP power brokers tell him that his potential power to attract Latino voters to the Republican ticket will be the difference between winning and losing the White House.
“First of all, these hypothetical questions are dangerous,” he said. “And it isn’t going to be the choice between winning and losing. You know, you don’t win or lose a presidential race on a VP pick. You win or lose on competing visions for the future of our country.
“And I think we Republicans have an opportunity to offer a very clear contrast to the direction that [President] Barack Obama has taken and wants to continue to take the U.S. ,” he concluded.
The Fox News Latino poll shows that President Obama now has a job approval rating of 73 percent among Latino voters. None of the candidates running for the Republican nomination, including Mitt Romney, gets more than 14 percent of the Latino vote when facing President Obama.
“If Mitt Romney puts a Hispanic candidate on the ticket, I don’t think Hispanic voters are going to look at that say ‘Oh, yeah!,' and ignore his stand against the Dream Act,” said Joel Benenson, President Obama’s campaign pollster. The pollster said Romney’s policies on immigration are hurting him with Hispanics.
In fact, Romney has taken the hardest stand against immigration reform of any of the Republicans, including his famous proposal to have illegal immigrants deport themselves. He also criticized former Sen. Rick Santorum for supporting the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latino justice on the Supreme Court. Romney has also gone after Texas Gov. Rick Perry for signing into law an in-state tuition benefit for illegal immigrants seeking an education.
So, does Sen. Rubio think Romney and the GOP vision for America’s economic future has any chance of getting through to Latino voters?
“Absolutely, [it will get to] all the communities in America,” Rubio said. No other community understands “empowerment, upward mobility, better than the Latino community… [it] is the reason why they are here to begin with. And the best system in the world for upward mobility and economic empowerment is the American free enterprise system. I would argue the Democrat’s agenda is undermining [it].”
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in 2011. He also writes for The Hill and on TheHill.com.