It is traditional for an opposition Congressman to reply to the President's address. On Tuesday, the Republicans gave this honour to Marco Rubio, 41, a Senator from Florida and the son of Cuban immigrants. The choice of Mr Rubio is a significant one because it signals that the Republicans are attempting to win back some of the Hispanic vote that they lost so disastrously in the presidential election in November 2012.
'Pathway to citizenship'
Mr Rubio has in the past been a vocal opponent of immigration reform that will allow more illegal immigrants to stay in the US but he has recently changed his tune and is now one of the 'gang of eight' senators who are drafting legislation that will allow many illegal immigrants to join a 'pathway to citizenship' provided that they have a clean criminal record, learn English and pay their back-taxes. However, Mr Rubio says that the Mexican border should be made secure before reform occurs.
The President has indicated that it was the Hispanic vote that won the election for him and the maths seem to confirm this. About 120m people voted in the US presidential election. President Obama received about 61m votes and Republican challenger Mitt Romney received about 58m, a difference of 3m votes. At the election, about 11% of voters or 13m people identified themselves as Hispanics. Among Hispanics, President Obama got over 70% of the vote or over 9m votes compared to Mr Romney's 4m, a difference of 5m votes. Pollsters found that one of the main issues that drove Hispanic voters to vote for Mr Obama was the attitude that the Republican Party took on illegal immigration.
Mr Romney campaigned on a policy of 'self-deportation' for illegal immigrants, most of whom are of Hispanic descent. This went down very badly with Hispanic voters. Analysis of the vote shows that, if the Republicans had received 40% of the Hispanic vote, (as George W Bush did in 2000 and 2004), Romney would have won the popular vote (though, because of the workings of the US system, he would not necessarily have won the Presidency).
To make matters worse for the Republicans, those of Hispanic descent are the fastest growing grouping in the US. It is estimated that there will be 50m Hispanic voters by 2050 which, most Republican analysts believe, that the Republicans will not regain the presidency unless they can improve their showing among Hispanic voters.
In his reply, Mr Rubio said that he opposed Mr Obama's plans to stimulate the economy and to eliminate tax loopholes. He said that Mr Obama's policies showed that he was scapegoating the wealthy for the failures of government. He said that he opposed the President's economic reforms because they would hurt the middle-class, immigrant families in the area where he grew up. On immigration, Mr Rubio said that existing laws should be implemented fully before any further immigration reform was passed.
Secure the border
Mr Rubio has already drawn criticism for his anti-immigration stance from Hispanic immigrant organisations. Mr Rubio has said that the border with Mexico should be secured before any further reform is enacted. Cesar Vargas of the Dream Action Coalition said that the Coalition would be targeting Mr Rubio as they continued to put pressure on politicians to pass immigration reform.
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