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Rubio in NH: 2016 Will be a Referendum on Our Identity as a Nation

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) enjoyed a warm reception at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit. He built on the theme of optimism for America’s future that he spoke of in his presidential announcement speech, and he added some sharp criticism of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Rubio started by noting that it had been a “fascinating week, probably the most historic of my life,” and then shifted into a bit of a stand up routine that seemed well-received. A reporter had asked whether Rubio thought that 43 was “old enough to be president.” Rubio’s reply: “I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure 44 is,” which is how old he will turn on his birthday this May. The Constitution only requires that the President be at least 35 years old, and our youngest President, John F. Kennedy, was 43 when he was sworn into office in 1961.

Rubio also joked that he had “worn more wires than an FBI informant” this week, due to all the media interviews. Regarding Hillary Clinton’s rumored plan to raise $2.5 billion for her campaign, Rubio quipped, “that’s a lot of Chipotle, my friends.”

Taking a more serious tone, Rubio said that running for President was “a decision one makes after a lot of thought and prayer.”

“I believe with all my heart that we are on the verge of another American century,” he continued, echoing the “New American Century” theme of his campaign. “Throughout all of human history, you could only go as far as your parents went before you,” said Rubio, but in America, we did not have such limits.

Rubio then spoke about his family, about how both of his parents had been born poor in Cuba, where “they found themselves in a society that told them…there are things you just cannot do because of who you are and where you come from.”

After coming to America, the Rubios found jobs, were able to raise their four children, own their own home, save for retirement, and leave their children better off. “They were never rich, never famous, but they were successful,” said Rubio, meaning that his parents had achieved the American dream.

However, said Rubio, today that American dream is in doubt for millions of Americans. “Why is this happening to the greatest country in human history?” he asked. The answer, according to Rubio: too many leaders stuck in the past. All was not lost, though, and “our future has the opportunity to be better than our history,” if America finds away to adapt to the twenty-first century.

America is “engaged in a global competition” for investment and talent, said Rubio, and is being held back by regulations that are crushing innovation, an excessive corporate tax rate, businesses that are not growing because of Obamacare, and energy policies that are blocking us from using our natural resources.

Rubio also touched on a few specific policy proposals. Not all well-paying jobs require a traditional college degree, and there are many skilled labor positions, like trained auto mechanics, that employers have trouble filling. “Why have we stigmatized these jobs?” asked Rubio. He would support efforts to help people advance their education and get the training needed for these jobs, especially flexible options like online courses and night classes that are more accessible for working families.

Regarding the growing trend of college graduates who find themselves deep in debt and unable to find jobs in their degree field, Rubio said, “we have to stop graduating people from college with degrees that do not lead to jobs…we can’t afford to do this any more.” One idea he had was to require colleges, before students take out student loans, to tell those students what to expect to earn if they graduate from that school with that degree.

Rubio then shifted his focus to foreign policy, issuing a sharp condemnation of the Obama administration. “You cannot have global stability without American leadership,” he said. No one else was up to the task, not the United Nations, not Russia, not China, none of our allies. When America failed to lead, that created a power vacuum, and led to chaos and unrest around the world.

Rubio slammed President Obama for how he had “eviscerated American military capability,” and noted that while we could not solve the world’s problems on our own, the solutions certainly would not be found without us. There is only one nation on earth that can rally the world to confront evil, said Rubio, and if America failed to lead, the consequences for the world, and our nation, would be grave.

“The election of 2016 will not be an election about what laws we’re going to pass, or if it will be a Democrat or a Republican,” said Rubio, but instead it will be “a referendum on our identity” as a nation and what kind of future we want.

“This isn’t a sport,” he continued, perhaps making a veiled reference to the media circus that always surrounds presidential campaigns, “this is about the future of America and its very identity.”

“I believe the twenty-first century will be an American century, and so should you,” Rubio said as the crowd applauded. He added that despite America’s challenges he would not choose to live anywhere else. Rubio concluded his remarks saying that he was confident that the Republicans could be “the party for the future,” and show the American people that we trying to improve their lives, and that we were the ones with ideas.

Rubio then took several questions from the audience.

Asked about what Democrats he was able to work with in the Senate, Rubio said he was able to get along with everyone, quipping “even those who called me a loser,” referring to comments made by Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Rubio cited several Senators, like Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who had worked with him on successful bills and said that there would always be some ideas where it was possible to work with the Democrats.

However, said Rubio, there were still “fundamental differences” between the parties, and right now the Democratic Party was “under the control of a radical left wing view,” that government spending was the answer to problems and America was at fault for the problems in the world.

Another audience member asked Rubio about the Common Core educational standards. Rubio is not a fan of Common Core and shared his belief that it would eventually be used by the Department of Education to force compliance with federal rules. He said he supports curriculum reform, but that it needs to happen at the local school board and state legislative level.

This reaffirms what Rubio said in an appearance Monday night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show, where he expressed a strong opposition to Common Core. “I don’t think we need a federal standard or [to have] the Department of Education as a school board,” said Rubio.

The next question asked about new regulations passed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Presidential leadership in this area was critical, said Rubio, and “the tone is set at the Executive Branch” but right now we have too much power in hands of unelected bureaucrats.

These labor restrictions were “not simply an annoyance, it makes us uncompetitive,” said Rubio, to impose upon business owners requirements that make them uncompetitive with the rest of the world in our era of a global economy.

Rubio’s solution was to have Congress enact a “regulatory budget,” whereby a limit would be set on how much the regulations would be able to cost the economy. If the bureaucrats wanted to add a new regulation, they would have to get rid of an old one to pay for it, or specifically justify it to Congress the next time. Right now, too many of our laws are being written by unelected bureaucrats who have little oversight and seemingly no limits on the financial burden they can place on the American economy.

Rubio had a similarly bold response to a question about entitlement reform, calling the “single leading cause of our national debt” the entitlement programs that were not sustainable in their current forms.

The Social Security and Medicare that Rubio’s generation and those younger than him get will “still be the best in the world,” but will look different that what our parents received. When Social Security was enacted, there were sixteen workers for every retiree. Today, there are only three workers for every retiree, and soon that number will be only two.

Rubio noted that he ran on this issue during his 2010 Senate campaign, and people predicted that it would kill his chances in Florida, with the state’s large population of retirees, but it didn’t. We have no choice but to make changes, said Rubio, and anyone who says they do not want to change the programs is in favor of bankrupting them.

In response to a question about English as a Second Language being taught in schools, Rubio said that English was “the unifying language of our people,” and anyone who immigrates here and did not learn English was limiting their future. “If you don’t speak English, you’re not going to prosper economically.”

Another question was about the recent negotiations with Iran over its efforts to enrich uranium, and drew Rubio’s harshest critiques of the current administration. “Iran is the premier sponsor of terrorism on the planet,” said Rubio, adding that they used terrorism “as a form of statecraft” like other nations use diplomacy.

“Our president should have never entered into these negotiations,” said Rubio, who noted that the international sanctions had been “having a devastating impact” that was “threatening their regime stability.” The trouble, said Rubio, was that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “wanted the deal worse than [Iran] did,” and so they were in a weaker position at the negotiating table.

Iran is not just attempting to develop nuclear material, warned Rubio, but they are also working on a delivery system, including long range missiles that could hit the United States. Becoming a nuclear power would allow Iran to achieve “their ultimate ambition” to be a hegemonic power, wielding influence throughout their region.

Rubio said that he was “not cheering for war” but a nuclear Iran was “an unacceptable risk for the region and the world.”

He then addressed immigration, saying that it was critical for us to improve the way we enforce our immigration laws. One major problem, said Rubio, was the many people who travel here legally but then overstay their visas. “We’re like a hotel that checks you in but never checks you out,” he said, advocating for a stronger enforcement mechanism to follow up on people overstaying their visas, in addition to an e-verify system and border security enhancements.

“This is not a game,” said Rubio, noting that he served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for four and a half years now. “The risks this country faces today are greater than the day I took office…this risk is real and it is not hyperbole [but] has only continued to grow under the watch of this President and his administration.”

As Rubio concluded his remarks, the audience gave him a standing ovation. He was overheard on the CSPAN microphones thanking the event organizers and saying, “This was really fun.”

Earlier in the evening’s program, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) had mentioned that he and Rubio had been at a local gathering at a supporter’s home the day before, and praised the Senator’s “optimism” and message. The fact that “so many different people from so many different backgrounds can ascend to the White House” is what America is all about, said Guinta.

Guinta also shared a quick story from the house party. A ten-year-old boy who was there with his family asked Rubio, “Are you a Red Sox fan?” (Most New Hampshire residents cheer for the Boston Red Sox as opposed to the New York Yankees.) ”

“I’m not a Red Sox fan but I’m not a Yankee fan either,” answered Rubio. “So far,” said Guinta, “he’s doing pretty well in my book,” adding that what seeking the presidency was about was talking to people, winning one vote at a time.

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) also had kind words for Rubio, calling him a “dear friend and one of the hardest workers in the US Senate.”

Rubio’s presidential announcement speech and packed schedule of media interviews are garnering mostly positive reviews. Although Rubio is currently trailing candidates like former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in most polls, a poll of Florida Republican voters this week showed that he had gotten a bump from his announcement and was now slightly in the lead in his home state.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.

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