Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. used the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday to challenge the president on how to best serve the middle class, arguing that the answer to alleviating the burdens on working class people is not through taxes and spending but by supporting a free enterprise system.
"Tax increases can't do this. Raising taxes won't create private sector jobs. And there's no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That's why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy," Rubio said from the Speaker of the House's conference room in the U.S. Capitol.
"The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers - that's an old idea that's failed every time it's been tried," said Rubio, 41. "More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back. More government isn't going to create more opportunities. It's going to limit them. And more government isn't going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It's going to create uncertainty."
Rubio rehearsed his speech Tuesday morning, as can be seen in these photos released by his office, but when it came to the actual delivery of the speech, Rubio hit a SNAFU.
In the middle of his speech, Rubio stopped speaking and reached off screen to grab a water bottle to take a drink. The Florida senator made light of the moment afterwards, tweeting out a photo of a small Poland Spring water bottle resembling the one he took a swig from in the middle of his speech.
Rubio's speech, the first ever bilingual response to the State of the Union, comes at a time when the Republican Party is struggling with how to rebrand itself and how to appeal to a growing constituency which it lost in last year's election - Latinos. Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the 1950's, is one of the most recognizable Hispanic figures in the Republican Party and is often floated as a potential presidential contender for 2016.
Rubio, who lives in the same Miami, Florida neighborhood he was raised in, tried to link himself to working class people, saying it is their concerns he has in mind, not the interests of the rich.
"His favorite attack of all is that those who don't agree with him - that we only care about rich people," Rubio said of the president. "Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires. They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They're immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in the countries where the government dominated the economy."
And these modest people in his neighborhood, argued Rubio, will actually be hurt if taxes rise and government spending isn't cut.
"The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families," he said of the president. "It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security," Rubio said. "So Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."
Rubio helped craft a bipartisan immigration plan which was introduced last month, but he only briefly mentioned immigration in his speech, saying a legal immigration system would benefit the economy.
"We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world's best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."
The Florida senator promoted the issues of school choice and access to affordable student loans while also pushing Republicans' efforts to reform the Medicare system. But Rubio also noted that the power to enact change comes not from politicians but from the American people.
"Our strength has never come from the White House or the Capitol. It's always come from our people. A people united by the American idea that, if you have a dream and you are willing to work hard, nothing should be impossible," Rubio said.
Rubio appeared on the cover of Time Magazine last week when he was dubbed "The Republican Savior," but Rubio's ascent within the Republican Party has been in the works for years.
Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 after a contentious primary against former Gov. Charlie Crist, who many considered to be the frontrunner at the start of the senate race, but with the help of the Tea Party, Rubio exceeded expectations and beat out Crist in the Republican primary and secured the seat that November.
In his two years in the Senate, Rubio has devoted much of his time to working on immigration and recently proposed a bipartisan immigration plan with the "gang of 8? senators.
Throughout the 2012 election, Rubio acted as a surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and even introduced him at the Republican National Convention, affording Rubio the opportunity to express the differences between the GOP and President Obama, who he once called one of the most "divisive figure(s)" in modern American history.
"Under Barack Obama, the only 'change' is that 'hope' is hard to find," Rubio said in Tampa, Fla. last August. "Now, sadly, millions of Americans are insecure about their future. But instead of inspiring us by reminding us of what makes us special, he divides us against each other. He tells Americans they're worse off because others are better off, that rich people people got rich by making other people poor. Hope and change has become divide and conquer."
Rubio also used his convention speech to share the story of his parents' immigration to the United States from Cuba during the 1950's and how they were determined to provide a better future for their children.
"They emigrated to America with little more than the hope of a better life," Rubio said. "My dad was a bartender. My mom was a cashier, a hotel maid and a stock clerk at K-Mart. They never made it big. They were never rich. And yet, they were successful - because just a few decades removed from hopelessness, they made possible for us all the things that had been impossible for them."
"He was grateful for the work he had, but that's not the life he wanted for us," Rubio said of his father's job as a bartender. "He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room. That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle - that we're exceptional not because we have more rich people here. We're special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, they come true here. That's not just my story. That's your story. That's our story."
Rubio resides in West Miami with his wife, Jeanette Dousdebes, a former Miami Dolphin cheerleader, and his four children - two boys and two girls.