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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio charms Iowa crowd, tries to reframe his Dream Act alternative as 'humanitarian' concern

As he walked into the Washington Court Hotel today, Sen. Marco Rubio was greeted by members of a business group from Des Moines. "Hopefully you'll see more of Iowa," a woman told him. Rubio laughed. Pictures were taken.

Wink, wink.

But as he charmed his guests, Rubio also delivered a lengthy and substantive speech about U.S. policy and his vision of American exceptionalism. "If we decline, who rises?" he asked a room full of Democrats and Republicans. A question and answer session that followed pulled out the news of the day when the subjected turned to immigration.

Rubio sought to recast his Dream Act alternative as a "humanitarian" concern, not an immigration one.

His rhetorical twist seems designed to tamp down growing concern over his proposal by the right, which has espoused a "border-first" approach and sees any help for illegals as amnesty. Rubio, who stressed his proposal does not create a new pathway to citizenship, also accused Democrats of opposing a compromise so they can use the full Dream Act as an election issue. But the challenge seems more within his party.

"There are concerns by many people in my own party that we need to do enforcement first before we do anything on immigration. Those are valid concerns," Rubio said. "But I would just say this is really not an immigration issue; it's a humanitarian issue. We do have hundreds of thousands of young people in this country that entered without any fault of their own and if we have a chance to allow them to get right what their parents got wrong, and if we can do it in a way that doesn't encourage illegal immigration in the future, we should consider that. My hope is it's an issue we can solve in a bipartisan fashion, not in a political one."

Rubio cast it as a very narrow solution, comparing the children to "Cuban refugees" who get special rights under U.S. law.

His response drew sustained applause.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 7:23pm]

    

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