In the aftermath of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's crushing loss to Obama and a disappointing showing by Republicans in last November's senatorial elections, Rubio has increased his profile and stature within the party and nationally.
Republicans, recognizing that they failed to connect with enough Hispanic voters in part because of the party's opposition to a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, hope the son of Cuban immigrants can help the party heal from what some leaders say are self-inflicted political wounds from failing to be more inclusive.
Rubio has been working with a bipartisan group of senators who are pushing for immigration legislation that would include a pathway to citizenship and enhance security along the U.S.-Mexico border. Overhauling immigration laws, he said, is essential for economic growth.
"We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally," he said. "But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."
In his remarks on behalf of the tea party, Paul also touched on immigration, urging tea party supporters to embrace efforts in Washington to change the system.
Rubio delivered his remarks amid the official trappings of the House of Representatives' Speakers Conference Room. Paul spoke from a downtown Washington meeting room, less than a mile from Capitol Hill.
"We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future," Paul said in prepared text released before he spoke. "We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities."
Paul had harsh words for Obama, Democrats and his own party on federal spending, and for their reluctance to take a realistic approach in cutting it.
"Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone wins, but every taxpayer loses," he said. "It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud."
Paul advocated letting the sequester, an $85 billion round of automatic cuts that would take effect March 1 if Congress fails to act, happen.
"Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America credit rating," he said. "Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess."
Being tapped to give the opposing party's response to a president's State of the Union speech is an honor usually reserved to rising stars in the Republican or Democratic parties, or others regarded as presidential or vice presidential material.
But recent history of State of the Union responders has produced mixed results. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, viewed as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, received brutal reviews for his 2009 rebuttal and was passed over by Romney as a vice presidential running mate.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a favorite among cultural conservatives, gave the Republican's 2010 response. He, too, failed to make Romney's vice presidential cut. On the other hand, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who joined Romney on the losing presidential ticket, gave the GOP's 2011 rebuttal.
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