Sen. Marco Rubio pitched himself Sunday as the presidential candidate best suited to defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and lead America far into the 21 century, even as he faces a crowded GOP field that includes fellow Floridian Jeb Bush and biting critiques over his push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Mr. Rubio also refused to take war off the table in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“If we don’t do it, someone else will,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying the Saudis and other Sunnis will not sit idly by as Shiite-led Iran builds an atomic bomb.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Mr. Rubio has positioned himself as a fresh face who can help others realize their American dream.
He has contrasted himself with Mrs. Clinton, who he considers a relic of old Washington, and President Obama, whose ideas were supposed to usher in change but, in Mr. Rubio’s eyes, weren’t good enough to make that happen.
“I think the 21st century is going to be better than the 20th century,” the Florida Republican said. “But there are some things we need to do to make that happen.”
Mr. Rubio said Mrs. Clinton has refused to distinguish herself from Mr. Obama, and he blamed her for the failed diplomatic “reset” with Russia and the response to the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. Rubio officially announced his candidacy last week, following fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
In an awkward turn, he now faces Mr. Bush, the GOP establishment front-runner who served as a mentor to Mr. Rubio during his rise through Florida politics before winning a Senate seat in 2010.
“It’s a unique situation,” Mr. Rubio told CBS, adding the competitive field will be good for the party in the long run.
As he courts conservatives, Mr. Rubio must face questions about his push for comprehensive immigration reform as part of a bipartisan “group of eight” in 2013. The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House over concerns about border security and a potential path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“We can’t do it in a massive piece of legislation,” Mr. Rubio said Sunday. “And I know, because I tried.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat who offered full-on support Sunday for Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 bid, told ABC’s “This Week” that the episode is telling, in that Mr. Rubio “folded like a cheap shotgun” once conservatives criticized his bill.
Looking forward, Mr. Rubio said the country should strengthen its border and visa-tracking systems so it can put in place a system that subjects undocumented immigrants to background checks and payment of fines and back-taxes — part of a route to legal residency.
“It’s a long process, it’s a reasonably process, it’s a fair process,” he said. “But it has to happen in that order.”