Despite being the odds-on favorite for the No. 2 spot on the GOP's 2012 ticket, Sen. Marco Rubio said he's not interested: "I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee," the Florida Republican said at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday.
Rubio said he believes in the importance of the Senate and its work and wants to make a difference there. "I don't crave it," he said of the vice presidency. "I wanted to be a United States senator. I didn't run for Senate as a launching pad."
Rubio has given similar denials in the past, but no one seems to believe him. Though he was just elected in 2010, his profile -- well-spoken, telegenic, conservative, not to mention a Hispanic from a huge swing state -- is unmatched in the pool of running-mate prospects.
Immigration has become a flashpoint in the race for the 2012 nomination, and Rubio was asked by National Journal's Major Garrett whether Republicans risk alienating a key bloc.
"We cannot be the anti-illegal-immigration party. We have to be the pro-legal-immigration party," Rubio said. Rather than state laws like the one that recently took effect in Alabama, he said, "I believe immigration has to be addressed at the federal level in order to be solved."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been criticized by his presidential rivals for his support of a bill that allowed some illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition in Texas universities. "As a general rule, people who are here without documents should not benefit from programs like in-state tuition," Rubio said -- but he proceeded to qualify that statement extensively, noting that young people's immigration situations can be complicated and it's understandable that states want to make narrow exceptions for teens who "can dunk a basketball" or "have a 4.0 GPA."
Despite his demurrals about national ambitions, Rubio has raised his national profile with actions like a speech at the Reagan Library in August, where he caused controversy by saying that government programs like Social Security had "weakened us as a people."
But he said Wednesday that those remarks had been misinterpreted. "That speech was actually a very strong defense of the proper role of government," he said.
Government must be "compassionate," he said, but it shouldn't supplant private charity. "The mindset has set in that somehow because we pay our taxes that excuses us from our responsibility to help those less fortunate," he said.
As a practical matter, Rubio said, there's just no way current levels of entitlement programs can be sustained long-term.
"Life has to be a choice between real options," he said. "Here's what's not an option: that we continue to have the Medicare we have today indefinitely."