LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Friday critiqued President Obama and Congress for using the issue of immigration for their own political gain -- and for putting politics ahead of true efforts for reform.
But while doing so, he also showed that he was not above using the hot button issue as an opportunity to take some political jabs himself.
Speaking at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference here, Rubio told the crowd, "I was tempted to come here today and rip open the policies of the administration."
He added, "I was tempted to come here and tell you 'Hey, [Obama] hasn't been here in three years, what a coincidence it's an election year....but that's not the direction I want to go with my speech. Because if I did, if that's what I came here to talk to you about, then I would be doing the exact same thing that I just criticized."
Rubio spoke to the conference just hours before the president -- exactly one week since he announced an executive action that granted some young undocumented immigrants the ability to gain legal status. It is a concept similar to what Rubio was proposing but had never drafted into legislation.
"Of course, a few months later, a president takes a similar idea and implements it through executive action and now its the greatest idea in the world," Rubio said of last week's announcement. "I don't care who gets the credit; I don't. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics for some people," said Rubio.
A day earlier in front of this same conference, Republican nominee Mitt Romney outlined his most specific immigration policy to date. But it still left major questions, like whether or not Romney would repeal the Obama order that gave refuge to some children brought to the United States illegally. Rubio has said he is in favor of such a measure, but the president's actions have made it more difficult to form a lasting long term solution.
Both Rubio and Romney received polite applause from the crowd of nearly 1,000, but neither generated a noticeable amount of excitement. The main draw for this crowd, comprised of many Latino legislators from around the country, is the president.
In his address, the Florida senator expressed optimism for achieving lasting immigration reform. "Perhaps we are as close as we've ever been to a critical turning point in the debate about immigration," he said at the top of his speech.
Yet while Rubio expressed optimism about the prospect of achieving a long-term solution to immigration, he warned that there are still major questions that remain unsolved.
"It's complicated. If we are able to reform and modernize our legal immigration system, if we can win the confidence of the American people back, were left with the issue of millions of people that are still undocumented and then the great answer, the quick question then is: What do you do about them?" Rubio asked. "I've talked about what you do about the kids. What about everybody else?"
"Here's the truth, if were honest with ourselves: We don't know yet."
Rubio, of course, is a rising star in the Republican Party and considered a VP possibility for Romney.
Even some Democrats at the conference said they could understand Rubio's appeal. "Very impressive individual," said Utah state senate Democratic leader Ross Romero. "I think he recognized that immigration has been used as a political football, which is unfortunate. But ultimately, it's a tough issue and you're trying to accommodate many different views on immigration."