ORLANDO -- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday those involved in politics these days have a tendency to exaggerate, and despite minor inconsistencies, his family’s history remains essentially the same as he has always described it.
But he declined to respond directly to the latest inconsistencies related to his retelling of his parents’ arrival from Cuba and their early years in the U.S.
Rubio spoke at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and in Tampa, where he also discussed job creation policies.
“We do have a tendency in modern politics to exaggerate things. It’s not like they discovered my parents were from Canada. My story is essentially the same one. My parents came to this country in search for a better life. They were prepared to live here permanently but always wished they could go back to Cuba,” he said.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant later clarified to the AP that Rubio was referring to the tendency of “everybody involved in politics,” and particularly some in the media.
Rubio’s official Senate website until recently described his parents as having fled Cuba following Fidel Castro’s takeover. But media organizations reported last week that Rubio’s parents and his maternal grandfather emigrated for economic reasons more than two years before the Cuban Revolution. That means when they first came to the U.S. they were not fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist government but were coming for economic reasons, like millions of other immigrants. The website has since been updated.
The story gained national attention because Rubio is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick. Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and front-runner Mitt Romney have said he would make a great running mate. A number of Rubio staffers previously worked on Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Romney defended Rubio at a New Hampshire campaign stop over the weekend.
The issue also was magnified because Florida’s Cuban exiles wield significant political power and hold fierce passions against Castro and the island’s communist government more than 50 years after the Cuban revolution.
Rubio, 40, has always identified with the exile community and maintains he may not have remembered the exact dates his family left Cuba, but they were exiles because they tried to go back to the country in 1961 and realized they did not want to live in a communist country. His staff says they never again returned after that.
Rubio’s father died in September 2010 as his son was campaigning for the Senate. Neary a year later, his mother suffered a series of debilitating strokes.
Additional discrepancies in Rubio’s story surfaced Monday when NPR re-aired a 2009 interview in which he described his mother traveling to Cuba to care for her father, who had returned to the island and been hit by a bus. During that recorded interview, Rubio said his mother returned to Cuba with his older brother and sister in 1960, pausing over the date as if he weren’t completely sure of it.
Later he added: “When the time came to come home, the Cuban government wouldn’t let her. So, my dad was here in Miami working and desperate, because his family -- they would let my sister come because she was a U.S. citizen, but they wouldn’t let my brother and my mom come. And they would go to the airport every day for nine months waiting to be let go, and then finally were able to come. So, it was very frightening. And I think that’s what they decided for sure that that’s not the place they wanted to be.”
That explanation was at odds with Rubio’s statement in which he neither mentioned his grandfather nor the Castro government’s efforts to keep his mother from leaving the island.
“In February 1961, my mother took my older siblings to Cuba with the intention of moving back. My father was wrapping up family matters in Miami and was set to join them.
“But after just a few weeks, it became clear that the change happening in Cuba was not for the better. It was communism. So in late March 1961, just weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion, my mother and siblings left Cuba and my family settled permanently in the United States.”
Asked repeatedly by The Associated Press over several days to clarify the changes in the story beyond the dates, a spokesman for Rubio declined.
On Thursday, Rubio said during his Tampa stop there was no disparity.
“It’s just more detail,” he said, adding “the story is the same one.”