ORLANDO, Fla. – A small but loud group booed and heckled Florida Sen. Marco Rubio while he tried to give a speech at a conservative conference here Friday, a sign that his support for a bipartisan immigration bill has hurt him within some elements of the Republican Party.
“No Amnesty!” several people shouted when Rubio walked to the lectern at the Defending the American Dream Summit, an annual gathering of Republicans and conservatives organized by the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 with support from the tea party, but he has been the target of fury on the right since he joined Democrats in championing an immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Rubio is considered a possible Republican presidential contender, but his work on the immigration bill has hurt his image with some conservative voters within the party.
The heckling at the conference subsided after he began to speak, but some in the audience continued to shout throughout the address and booed him when he finished. Despite the rough reception from some, Rubio did receive applause from most of the audience of about 1,500, who offered him several standing ovations.
Since the Senate passed the immigration bill in June, Rubio has largely avoided discussing the immigration issue, choosing instead to emphasize issues that resonate with that conservative base.
Rubio did not mention immigration in his Friday speech, but he re-upped his vow not to support a government spending bill if it includes funds for the 2010 federal health care law, and said he would vote against a measure to raise the debt limit unless it came with a balanced budget amendment.
“I will not vote for a short-term budget that spends one single cent on Obamacare," Rubio said to loud applause.
His efforts to defund Obamacare at all costs and others could help put him back in conservative good graces, but based on the attitude of activists here, the former tea party darling has much work to do.