WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, tying the nation's immigrant past with his own and calling for a "new American century."
"Every single one of us is the descendant of a go-getter," said Rubio, the 40-year-old Republican from Miami. "Of dreamers and of believers. Of men and women who took risks and made sacrifices because they wanted their children to live better off than themselves.
"And so whether they came here on the Mayflower, on a slave ship or on an airplane from Havana, we are all descendants of the men and women who built here the nation that saved the world. We are still the great American people. And the only thing standing in the way of solving our problems is our willingness to do so.''
Rubio was the last of the 13 senators sworn in during January to deliver his speech. Aides suggested he was waiting for the right moment to address the debate over the national debt and spending.
But Rubio on Tuesday mentioned the word debt once and offered no prescriptions.
Instead, he focused on a broader narrative of the past, present and future. He quoted former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and fretted about a declining American status in the world with growing threats of "radical political Islam," and nations that torture political dissidents.
"What will the world look like if America declines?" Rubio asked.
His wife, Jeanette, and family members watched from the gallery. A handful of senators watched from their seats, including Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who joked that he was only disappointed that Rubio failed to mention the few years as a boy he lived in Las Vegas while his father worked as a casino bartender.
The speech was widely promoted by Rubio's office and attracted more attention than most first speeches. Rubio came into office as a rising star, not unlike Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama. Clinton delivered a speech on health care about a month after taking office. Obama's was more spontaneous, coming amid a debate over voting issues.
Rubio's rhetoric has long stirred crowds — the theme about his Cuban exile parents dates to his time in the Florida House and was a centerpiece of the Senate campaign — and his new colleagues were similarly affected Tuesday.
But Rubio also has cast himself as a leader with ideas, so the lack of details about current issues was notable. Rubio's office said the speech was intended as a "personal testimony about America's greatness" and that it would serve as a call of action to tackle the problems facing the country.
"If we give America a government that could live within its means, the American economy will give us a government of considerable means. A government that can afford to pay for the things government should be doing, because it does not waste money on the things government should not be doing," Rubio said.
"If we can deliver on a few simple but important things, we have the chance to do something that's difficult to imagine is even possible. An America whose future will be greater than her past."