GWEN IFILL: Here in Tampa, the convention agenda is shifting into high gear tonight with a lineup of high-profile speakers, all centered around one theme that the Republicans have titled “We Can Change It.”
An elected official attracting attention here is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Elected in 2010′s wave election, he is one of a handful being touted as the new face of the Grand Old Party.
I spoke with him earlier this afternoon.
Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), Florida: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: You’re going to be speaking before the convention tomorrow night, Thursday night. What’s the message you hope to bring?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, my job is to introduce Mitt Romney.
He will be the last speaker of the convention. And I hope I can present him in a way that does two things. It kind of culminates what we’re going to hear about Mitt Romney leading to the speech, his success as a person. I know his success as a businessman has been well-documented, but his success in his personal life, as a father, as a husband, these are important jobs, too, perhaps the most important jobs any of us of us have. And he’s been extraordinarily successful.
I would like to touch on that a little bit, but then also about the choice that this election presents. And it’s something both candidates agree on. I have the president say it. This election is a choice between two very different visions of government’s role in our economy.
And I just hope to present that tomorrow in a way that helps people understand we’re not just choosing between two men or two parties. We’re choosing between two very different views of what government should be doing and can do to make life better in America.
GWEN IFILL: This convention has also taken pains to show new faces like yours, for instance, and faces who are not what we expect to see in the Republican Party necessarily just looking at people on the floor.
Last night, we heard Ted Cruz, the Senate candidate in Texas. We’re going to hear from Governor Susana Martinez, Latino leaders, and you as well. But how do you explain the 3-1 margin almost that Barack Obama holds with Latino voters over Mitt Romney?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The first thing to remember is that these folks that have been speaking are elected.
They’re not a theory. They’re not people that are even running for office.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: These are really people that have happened. Susana Martinez was elected the governor of New Mexico. Brian Sandoval was elected the governor of Nevada. I was elected to the U.S. Senate. And we happen to be Republicans. And that’s — I think that’s a very positive thing for us to showcase, but I think we would be speaking even if our last names didn’t end in a vowel or in a Hispanic surname.
As far as the work of making sure that our message appeals to more people, including those of Hispanic descent and other minorities, that’s a long-term effort. It’s not an election-by-election effort. This is not just about November. It’s about the next decade and beyond. We want limited government and free enterprise conservatism to be a political movement that has appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans.
And to do that, you have to commit time and energy and not just in a two-month cycle, but in a 20-year cycle. You have to view it that way and invest in it.
GWEN IFILL: You have said this. Jeb Bush has said this. John McCain has said this. Yet the party platform uses kind of hot-button trigger terms like illegal aliens and it calls for self-deportation.
And that seems to be a gateway issue for a lot of Latino voters, that once you say we don’t want to allow our children, for instance, to stay in this country, as the DREAM Act would do, that this is a problem for them.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, it’s a gateway issue because in the Hispanic community, immigration is not a statistical issue. It’s not a theory.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: You know someone, you love someone, you work with someone that is being impacted by an immigration problem.
What I want the Republican Party to be is the pro-legal immigration party, a party that celebrates legal immigration not just as part of our heritage, but as a critical part of our future growth and development as a nation. We do have an illegal immigration problem. And people are rightfully frustrated by it. You go to a border state like Arizona…
GWEN IFILL: Including many Latinos.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, certainly.
If you live in a border state, for example, a Hispanic community or Latino community, you’re going to be impacted by the negatives of illegal immigration as well. The question is what do you do about it, how do you handle it? And I think it all begins by having a legal immigration system that works.
For example, if we had a workable guest-worker program, there would be a significant reduction in the amount of people coming illegally, but more importantly in the people that are here in an undocumented status. We need to have that. And there’s agreement on that. Why don’t we move on it? Why isn’t there a bipartisan effort to have a guest-worker…
GWEN IFILL: Why isn’t there?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Because politics is injected into this issue.
I have said this before. And I think both parties are guilty of using this issue to raise money and win elections. We have got to depoliticize this issue of immigration. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is an issue that’s important for our country.
GWEN IFILL: But the platform is a political document.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, what the platform talks about is the problem of illegal immigration, and it’s a real problem.
And we do need to have border security. We do need to have E-Verify. It protects workers, including workers of Hispanic descent. By the way, it also protects the millions of people in Latin America that are waiting to immigrate here the right way legally. That has to be talked about, too.
But I wish we wouldn’t just focus on that. In addition, I think there are other things we should be talking about, like how to reform and modernize our legal immigration system, because the Republicans are the pro-legal immigration party. We should be viewed that way and we have to work on making sure that that’s the view people have of us.
GWEN IFILL: You have been a leading voice on this issue, which is why I focus on those questions with you, and not because your name ends in a vowel.
So I want to back up a little bit and speak more broadly about what it is the Republican Party in general and Mitt Romney specifically is hoping to accomplish this week. Is it a convention which is going to spend the bulk of its time talking about President Obama’s failures, or is it one which has to say this is how Mitt Romney would make it better?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, every election is a choice.
And as I said at the outset of this program, by the president’s own admission, there’s a stark difference between how he views government’s role and how we Republicans view the role of government. I think it’s important for us to make clear to the American people what that difference is, so they can have a clearer choice.
And that was going to involve a debate about the debt. It is going to involve a debate about tax policy. It is going to involve a debate about Medicare and government spending, and so that’s important. Certainly, the president has to be held to account for what he hasn’t done, what he hasn’t accomplished, but it’s not just about that.
In the end, our mission is not to convince people that Barack Obama is a bad person. Our mission is to remind people that he’s a bad president and that there’s a better way moving forward, and that’s Mitt Romney.
GWEN IFILL: Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, thank you so much for taking the time for us.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you.