ORLANDO – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., came face-to-face Friday with how his support for a bipartisan immigration deal has hurt his standing with the partys tea party wing, facing loud hecklers during a speech to a group of influential conservative activists.
Rubios address at the opening session of the Defending the American Dream Summit, sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, was punctuated repeatedly by calls of No amnesty! from attendees scattered throughout the audience of about 1,000 people.
Rubio did not acknowledge the shouts, but he ended his speech with an impassioned description of the promise that he said America offers immigrants such as his parents, who came from Cuba.
My familys story is not just about them – its about us, Rubio said. Its the story of millions of people before them and since who achieved here in this land what would have been impossible almost anywhere else. That is still who we are.
He ended by assailing President Barack Obamas health care overhaul, bringing many in the room to their feet.
But he avoided directly addressing his push for Senate legislation providing a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million illegal immigrants, an issue likely to haunt him in conservative circles as he lays the groundwork for a possible run for the White House in 2016.
Id like to see Marco Rubio, just so I can tell him what I think of his positions – hes on the wrong track of being a conservative, Rick Barr, a 60-year-old activist from Indianapolis, said before the speech.
Rubio was part of a quartet of potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders making their pitch at the Americans for Prosperity summit, an early cattle call for those seeking support from tea party activists.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the crowd Friday, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is set to be the keynote speaker at todays closing session.
Americans for Prosperity is a prominent force in the tea party movement, and it was on the front lines attacking Obama on the airwaves in 2012. A central player among a constellation of groups that have been backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the group spent $190 million in the past election cycle.
Ronald Reagan memorabilia, National Rifle Association T-shirts and anti-Obamacare literature were in abundance at the conference center of an Orlando resort, where hundreds of activists swapped strategies for promoting conservative ideas.
Fridays speakers sought to cast themselves in that vein, lambasting Obama and his administration as big government gone awry.
I dont think the American people particularly want to look to Washington, D.C., to solve the problems of the day, Perry said. Washington, D.C., is creating the problems of the day.
Jindal told the audience that he was angry this government is using its power – the IRS, the NSA, the Department of Justice – to go after innocent, law-abiding Americans.
The strongest rhetoric of the day came from conservative writer David Horowitz, who called the president the most brazen and compulsive liar to ever occupy the White House, drawing loud whoops and cheers from the audience.
Earlier, as she waited in line to get into the event, Andrea Shea King, a conservative radio talk show host in Florida, said the robust turnout showed how the conservative movement is already focused on the next fight: If people think the tea party is dead, they havent looked around.