April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney softened his tone on federal student loan aid and illegal immigrants while campaigning in Pennsylvania alongside Marco Rubio, the first potential running mate to stump with him since Romney became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Romney today sided with President Barack Obama on a push to temporarily freeze interest rates on government-subsidized loans -- due to double on July 1. He also said he is reviewing a proposal by Rubio, a Florida senator, to permit visas for some children brought to the U.S. illegally by their immigrant parents.
The positions represented more moderated views from Romney than when the Republican race was still in doubt, telling students asking about financing college costs then not to expect government money and, at several debates, stressing his opposition to any proposal granting legal status to illegal immigrants.
Romney is seeking to repair damage done to his image in the Republican primary and appeal to independents and groups that polls show are resisting him, including women, Hispanics and young people.
“I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney told reporters in Aston, Pennsylvania, adding that he backed the relief “in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”
Obama is traveling this week to North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado to press for the freeze, which has been opposed by congressional Republicans.
At a joint media session with Rubio before a town-hall meeting with voters, Romney also said he is reviewing the first-term senator’s proposal to give non-immigrant visas to certain young people brought to the U.S. illegally as youngsters.
The proposed measure is Rubio’s more restrictive alternative to a congressional bill known as the DREAM Act that would let some undocumented youngsters earn legal residency if they attended college or joined the military. Backed by some lawmakers in both parties -- including Obama and most Democrats -- the bill has been blocked by Republican congressional leaders.
“The one that’s been proposed in the Senate creates a new category of citizenship for certain individuals,” Romney said, referring to the DREAM ACT. Rubio’s plan “does not create that new category,” Romney said. “It has many features to commend it. But it’s something that we’re studying.”
Some Republicans believe adding Rubio, 40, a Cuban-American and favorite of anti-tax Tea Party supporters, to the Republican ticket could boost Romney’s standing with Hispanic voters, who polls show hold a low opinion of him after months in which he has focused on the need to crack down on illegal immigration.
The joint appearance called attention to Romney’s vice presidential search, which he officially kicked off last week as he named longtime aide Beth Myers to lead the process.
Rubio, who has insisted he isn’t interested in the running-mate slot, refused for the second day in a row to discuss the matter.
“I’m not talking about that process anymore,” Rubio said.
Romney said his search is in its earliest stages.
“The process for selecting a vice presidential running mate is just beginning,” he said. “Beth Myers has begun to put together a number of the names and criteria and so forth that would be associated with that process, but we really haven’t had a discussion yet of putting together a list or evaluating various candidates.”
Romney’s appearance with Rubio was his first with a vice presidential prospect since Rick Santorum’s exit from the Republican race on April 10 made the former Massachusetts governor the presumptive Republican nominee.
Rubio received a rousing reception from hundreds of voters in the warehouse of Mustang Expediting, a transport company, who cheered loudly as he spoke about Romney, his own experience growing up in an immigrant family in the U.S., and his belief in U.S. ideals of self-sufficiency and upward mobility.
Rubio said he had opportunities his parents didn’t because “I had something they didn’t: the privilege and the honor of being born in the single greatest society in all of human history, in a place where anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything.”
Obama, he added, “is telling Americans that the reasons why they’re hurting is because other people are doing too well, that the way they can climb up the ladder is to pull other people down. If we do that, we become like every other country in the world.”
Romney’s victory in tomorrow’s Pennsylvania primary became virtually certain when Santorum, who once represented the state in the Senate, ended his candidacy. Also voting tomorrow are Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island.
Romney picked up the endorsement today of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of his rivals in the race for 2008 Republican presidential nomination, won by Arizona Senator John McCain.
“Mitt has won fair and square,” Giuliani said on Fox News Channel. “He’s proven he’s the most effective Republican. He’s taken on everybody and won an incredible number of primaries. He’s got the resume and the background for the job.”
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