Sen. Marco Rubio: Books, BJ's and Bounty paper towels ... oh, and immigration

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So let's get the silly stuff out of the way first, because all news should be led with silly stuff, right? As I posted on my Facebook account earlier today, "You know it's a rough Monday when you're buttonholing Marco Rubio next to the Bounty paper towels at BJ's. Just sayin'." And a rough Monday it was! Sen. Marco Rubio, who is still just as blurry and shapeless as he was when I last encountered him in the Florida House chambers (his daughters were having a princess party upstairs!), showed up at the giant-portions-of-mayonnaise hellhole known as BJ's Wholesale Club near the Mall at Millenia to sign his new memoir, An American Son, for a bevvy of followers that ranged from doe-eyed, soap-opera moms to golfing dads. Only an estimated 150 or so people made it out according to one publicist we spoke with, but that didn't mean that Marco did not require a giant bus worthy of a stadium tour for transport. Rubio, who is rumored to have failed his vetting for the Veepstakes, is still a really big, cuddly deal, apparently, and Republicans are short on cuddly these days.

Anyway, the reason we wanted to be there – other than to make jokes about blowjobs, wipe-up rags and large portions – was to hopefully bend Rubio's ear on the latest slew of controversy to come out about his amorphous immigration stance in the wake of his book – and a competing, less flattering book, The Rise of Marco Rubio, penned by Washington Post reporter, Manuel Roig-Franzia. The latter is the one that calls into question the roots of Rubio's very "American" rise, specifically the parts surrounding his grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia. Rubio's Grandfather-gate is not terribly new: The semantic volleyball of "refugee" and "exile" was exhausted months ago. But the question was reignited for us by a July 2 piece in The New Yorker by Steven Coll, "Nation of Immigrants." It begins like this: "On August 31, 1962, a sixty-three-year-old Cuban citizen named Pedro Víctor García boarded a Pan American Airways flight to Miami without a valid visa. After he landed, immigration police detained him. They could have deported Victor back to Havana immediately, but, for reasons that are unclear, they allowed him to stay, and to plead his case. Eventually, he became a legal resident of the United States."

Fair enough, but the crux of the piece is that Rubio and most other Republicans are stymieing the progress of immigration reform by repeatedly pandering to a rabid base. To wit:

There is no shame in Pedro Víctor’s story, of course; it merely illustrates, with a relatively happy example, the arbitrariness of America’s immigration system. The shame lies in how the Republican Party—and leaders like Rubio—offers only empty gestures toward compromise with the Administration to fix that system, and has instead adopted a xenophobic platform that gives priority to security crackdowns and rollbacks of immigrants’ rights.

Rubio has recently been wishy-washy on Obama's "stopgap" measure to aid in helping children of illegal immigrants provisionally stay in the country; but Rubio has also been banging the Tea Party drum to keep immigrants (like his grandfather) ghettoized and to keep the Republican base excited about hating things constantly.

Anyway, we stuck around long enough after the media circus and lines of fans dissipated, and – following a "tell us about your book," "anything else you want to say" softball quiz from CFNews 13 – we leaned in a little and and got some facetime with Rubio for ourselves. He has a weird face. That is all.

Nah, that's not really all. Asked about the conflicts between his own rags-to-riches grandpa story and his own keep-them-away public policy positions, Rubio winced a little and then told me, "No, that's not true," referring, we guess, to the confusion over whether his grandfather was an exile or a refugee. He said, as he has before, that much of the info that's been dug up about his grandfather was news to him after he had already written his story. But then he went on with something that resembled a fast-talking campaign script in support of either the DREAM Act or Obama's plan? (Other reporters told me that he had spoken earlier in similar circles, ultimately waiting to figure out what Mitt Romney wants him to say on the issue).

"[My grandfather] went back to Cuba like a lot of folks in the hopes that Fidel’s work would be better, and obviously that wasn’t the case. Basically, like all refugees and exiles, he snuck out of the country in ’63 and came to the U.S. as a political refugee," he said, rather quickly. "There was no U.S. intersection in Cuba; it was weeks before the Cuban missile crisis. So like all refugees, he came here in search of freedom. Now what I would say to you is I draw strength from that story, particularly for young kids who are in the States undocumented through no fault of their own. This country has a long history of accommodating people that don’t have a right to be here, and yet our hearts and our compassion goes out them. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a solution for these kids."

So, wait? Which side are you on? And with that, he disappeared back into Sharpie land, signing books and making jokes about buying wholesale fireworks at the store for the holidays. "My wallet's in the bus," he told one staffer.

Well, at least Rubio didn't have to endure the "Traitor" mock-up of his book and the protests associated in Orlando. At the Orlando stop, the staffers were finally clued into the Florida Watch Action intiative. But, hell, it's fun to watch him smile down the anger!

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