Jose Camacho was the first audience member to ask Senator Marco Rubio a question at the town hall hosted at FIU Wednesday afternoon. A junior international relations major, Camacho wanted to know whether Rubio felt he had gone too far in his attacks on frontrunner Donald Trump in recent weeks. The senator’s response was one of the most talked about answers of the evening.
Rubio said he didn’t regret attacking Trump’s business record or pointing out the policy differences between himself and Trump, but did express regret at some of his more personal jabs aimed at the Republican frontrunner.
“At the end of the day it’s not something I’m entirely proud of. My kids were embarrassed by it, and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t,” the senator said. “I think he had to be stood up to. But that said, that’s not the campaign I want to run.”
“I appreciated his honesty and I appreciated that he put himself out there like that, not just in front of us but in front of a national audience,” Camacho said. “That was a big deal for me.”
The exchange was part of an hour-long town hall held at Modesto A. Maidique Campus March 9, hosted by MSNBC and moderated by Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd. The event aired on MSNBC later that night at 8 p.m.
FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg welcomed Rubio and MSNBC in his introductory remarks to the approximately 250 local and university community members gathered in the GC Ballrooms for the event.
“We want to thank MSNBC for their confidence in FIU and for all the work that they are doing to make sure we can be informed citizens – to make sure that we can understand the nature of the political process,” he said.
Todd, who attended Miami Killian Senior High at the same time Rubio attended South Miami Senior High in the late 1980s, reflected on the significance of this event before welcoming the senator to the stage.
“I never thought I would be in this position, interviewing someone running for president when both of us went to Miami Dade public schools,” Todd told the audience. “I am so proud to be from Miami and what Miami has become. We’ve come a long way and no institution tells the story better of the growth of Miami than FIU.”
After receiving a warm welcome from the audience, Rubio, who used to be a part time instructor at FIU, looked around at the audience and joked that “some people got some As in here.”
“Were you a tough grader?” Todd asked.
“No, they’re voters,” Rubio responded, drawing laughter.
With less than a week until the winner-take-all Florida presidential primaries, Rubio emphasized the importance of winning his home state’s primary and its 99 delegates on March 15.
“It’s going to come down to Florida for me, and it always has,” Rubio said. “We need to win here. That’s our priority, and we’re going to win.”
Rubio went on to answer questions from Todd and the audience on a wide range of topics – including foreign policy, immigration policy, U.S.-Cuba relations, what kind of justices he would nominate to the Supreme Court and open carry and campus carry gun legislation.
The event gave students an opportunity to hear Rubio’s views and positions on these issues in person.
“I think too many students feel like they are distant from the political process but the reality is that they’re not, especially here at FIU,” said Jonathan De La Torre, a senior international relations and political science major and former president of the FIU College Republicans. “This is a place where students can get involved and it’s a great thing.”
For those in attendance, the chance to be a part of a town hall on campus was a powerful experience they will remember for years to come.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Jonathan Perez, a junior business management major who plans to vote for Rubio on Tuesday. “This is something I’ll never forget and will forever impact my way of looking at elections.”
As the town hall came to a close, Rubio argued that the university and the city of Miami exemplify an important aspect which makes the United States unique.
“We have to remember why we are exceptional. It’s because America is the one place on earth where where you’re born doesn’t determine how far you go,” Rubio said. “They understand that here in Miami and at FIU, especially.”