The hometown paper of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is cleaning up his latest political scandal better than his own PR team. On Thursday evening, The Washington Post published a lengthy article alleging that the Florida Republican "embellishes the facts" surrounding his parents' flight from Cuba, a story that "has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity." While team Rubio issued a statement that night conceding he "was not made aware of the exact dates until very recently," The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo wrote a blog post the same evening raising serious questions about the Post story and even prompting an apparent correction from the Beltway newspaper.
The hook of the Post story is that, according to naturalization papers, Rubio's parents left Cuba in 1956 before Fidel Castro took over the country, which is contrary to what Rubio has stated publicly. "The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity," writes the Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia. Trouble is, the Post's thesis may be a bit of an embellishment itself, over-stating what Rubio has claimed in public. Caputo explains:
The story doesn't cite one speech where Rubio actually said that. To back up the lead, the Washington Post excerpts from a 2006 address in the Florida House where Rubio said “in January of 1959 a thug named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and countless Cubans were forced to flee... Today your children and grandchildren are the secretary of commerce of the United States and multiple members of Congress...and soon, even speaker of the Florida House.”
The catch: If you listen to the speech, Rubio isn't just talking about those who specifically fled Cuba after Castro took power. He doesn't say that his parents fled Cuba. Instead, he was talking about "a community of exiles." That is: He was talking about all the Cubans who live in Miami.
Poking another hole in the story, Caputo notes that saying the "core" of Rubio's identity rests on the story of his parents emigration is a "stretch" at best. "The actual story of the 'flight' is far less emphasized than the fact that Rubio's an Hispanic Republican, and the child of immigrants and exiles. So to suggest Rubio serially embellished the 'dramatic' story of his parents fleeing Cuba could be a little too dramatic itself." The Post appears to agree with Caputo on that point, the word "dramatic" was scrubbed from the original article. Caputo also notes that this controversy over his parents' departure was first published in St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald after an "absurdist" birther opponent of Rubio's tried to declare he wasn't a "natural-born citizen."
That's some pretty good PR ammunition. Is Rubio using it? Not yet. In an interview with Politico published this morning, Rubio is more bent on disputing the meaning of the word exile. "My parents are exiles, which is the core of the story,” he said. “My dad died a year ago unable to return to the nation of his birth. They wanted to go back. They tried to go back. My mom did go back. They came back in 1961 and were never able to go again — that’s the definition of exile. … To say otherwise is absurd, really absurd."
You might argue that Rubio would be better off emphasizing the exaggeration of his speech to the Florida House, the retraction of the word "dramatic" and the way this story was originally brought up by "nativist/birther types." Missed opportunity?
In any case, if we're making it sound like Caputo is carrying water for his hometown official, it's important to note that Caputo isn't letting Rubio completely off the hook. He says Rubio is excessively sloppy when it comes to certain facts, and says he's heard Rubio get the date wrong of his parent's exodus before but also acknowledge that they left before Castro took power. "When he was in the Florida House, he failed to disclose a loan at one point and fill out his financial disclosures properly," Caputo writes. "He rung up a host of personal and questionable expenses on a Republican Party of Florida credit card and couldn't show how they furthered party business." Update: Rubio has penned a column in Politico defending himself. Strangely, he still doesn't point out the criticism that The Herald raises about the The Washington Post story. Too meta for the Florida senator?