Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was heckled during a Friday night speech in Miami by a handful of young activists opposed to his stance on immigration reform.
But the potential presidential contender laughed it off, joking that he’s the rare elected official to be heckled “by both sides of the immigration debate.”
“I just hope you bought the book,” Rubio said to the protesters as they were removed from the room by security, according to the Washington Post.
Rubio later joked: “If what they wanted was a discount of the book we could have worked it out.”
The senator was speaking at Miami Dade College as part of a multi-state tour to promote his book, “American Dreams,” as he works to build a national profile in preparation for a potential presidential bid.
But the hecklers highlighted the fact that what’s perhaps one of his greatest advantages is also part of what’s standing in his way to the White House: His leadership in passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate in 2013 that was dead on arrival in the House, countered by heavy conservative opposition.
Rubio’s role in that legislative fight was initially seen as a possible crowning achievement for the rising GOP star, but ultimately crippled him with conservatives who saw him as too willing to compromise with Democrats for a bad bill.
The Florida Republican has indeed been heckled before by members of the other party, over his efforts with that bill. During a 2013 Tea Party summit in Florida, Rubio was met with cries of “No amnesty!” from the conservative crowd.
Friday night, he encountered the opposite.
“What about my parents?” one protester cried, per the Post, prompting others to join in. Another swore, for which Rubio apologized to the crowd.
The issue is sure to be a sticking point for him in the Republican presidential primary, if he runs. But Rubio has been working to position himself as a pragmatic conservative alternative to others in the field, and taking a hardline stance on immigration reform could undo those efforts.
If he decides instead to run for re-election to the Senate, he’s a heavy favorite in the primary. Florida’s purple tint during an election year, however, guarantees he’ll have a huge target on his back from Democrats eager to pick up a seat.