U.S. Senator Marco Rubio recalled his unlikely path to Washington, his family's struggle to leave Cuba and start over in America, and criticized President Barack Obama's foreign policy, previewing the themes he'd focus on if he decides to run for president.
Speaking Friday before the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Rubio also continued to distance himself from his role in pushing a bipartisan immigration plan through the Senate in 2014, saying he learned lessons and declining to push back on an assertion from Fox News personality Sean Hannity that Rubio had regrets about the legislation. Asked later what his top five priorities would be as president, Rubio didn't mention immigration.
"What I've learned is you can't even have a conversation about that until people believe and know—and not just believe, but is proven to them—that future illegal immigration will be controlled," Rubio said. "That is the single biggest lesson of the last two years."
Rubio, 43, opened his 20 minutes on stage by reminding the friendly crowd that his first address to the group was in 2010, when he was a "50-point" underdog against then-Governor Charlie Crist. Rubio has said he'll decide whether to run for president in the spring, and early polls show he'd start from behind in that race, too.
One of his rivals would likely be a fellow Floridian, former Governor Jeb Bush, who is facing criticism among conservatives for his support of the Common Core academic standards. Rubio took a shot at the standards when, during a question about the national debt, he said he opposed "having a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on our whole country ."
"So I'll put you down as a 'yes' for Common Core?" Hannity joked, as Rubio laughed and the crowd applauded.
Rubio also took shots at the "Obama-Clinton" foreign policy, saying the president wants a nuclear deal with Iran to "be the Obamacare of his second term." Obama, Rubio said, “treats the ayatollah in Iran with more respect than the prime minister of Israel."
Asked for his top five priorities if he became president, Rubio gave three: An economic policy that included tax reform, regulatory reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and expanding the nation's energy portfolio; "revolutionize" the way higher education is paid for and develops students' skill; and bolstering the U.S. military with for foreign policy "that tells the world very clearly that it is bad to be our enemy, and good to be our friend."