“These young people are very brave to be here today,” Rubio told the audience. “They raise a very legitimate issue… Please. If they would give me the courtesy of finishing my speech where I talk about this, then I ask that you guys let ‘em stay. Because I think they’ll be interested in what I’m going to say.
That was then.
On Monday in South Carolina, Rubio chided immigration activists who interrupted his speech at a fundraiser for Jeff Duncan, a Tea Party-based candidate. As four young demonstrators unfurled a banner at the back of the hall, Rubio quipped that they should wait until 10 minutes into his speech. That would give him time for a water break, he said in a quippy reference to his awkward lunge for a bottle water while delivering the Republican response to the State of the Union.
One activist shouted, “You want to deport us and our families.”
But this time, there was no pleading with security guards. Instead, on a tape of the event obtained by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Rubio can be heard chiding the demonstrators. “You’re doing harm to your own cause,” he says. “You don’t have the right to illegally immigrate to the United States."
He did, however, also hit some softer notes. At one point in his remarks, he said he "sympathized" with what the protestors were saying.
Rubio’s confrontation with the protestors in South Carolina comes at a tenuous time for the young senator. Last year, he incurred the wrath of the Republican Party’s right wing by championing a failed bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform package. Then he angered immigration activists by changing his stance and saying that he wouldn’t vote for the proposal after it ran into opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Since then, Rubio has been eager to win back the support of conservatives. His shift of tone on Tuesday might have said more to those conservatives than any words he could have used.