Reporter Raises Questions About Rubio's Background

Robert Siegel speaks to Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia about Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's background — and why it is being questioned.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Florida freshman Senator Marco Rubio has defended a misstatement that he's made about his family on many occasions as a case of going by family lore. Rubio's parents were immigrants from Cuba. He's often said that they came after Fidel Castro came to power, which was New Year's Day, 1959. Reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia writes in today's Washington Post that they actually came here earlier than that, in 1956.

In a moment, we'll hear what Rubio told me about his family in Cuba a couple of years ago. But, first, Manuel Roig-Franzia, what's the importance in the distinction between 1956 and 1959?

MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA: It means a lot to people in Southern Florida. It can confer legitimacy to someone if they came after the revolution. And in some cases, people who came before the revolution - in some cases - they're viewed with suspicion that they might have been sympathizers with Batista, the previous leader, or at least not anti-Castro.

SIEGEL: And the source of the date, as you found it, 1956, where does that come from as opposed to the '59 date that Rubio has used?

ROIG-FRANZIA: The parents both sought to become naturalized citizens in 1975 and there was an important date on those documents. It was May 1956. I looked at it and I thought, you know what? Somebody could have done a typo. It could have been a sloppy clerk. A six almost looks like a nine upside down. And so we found, in Dade County Circuit Court records, a official declaration of domicile, which also listed the exact same date for their entry. And that's when I realized that it really was the true date that they had come and that it conflicted with some of the statements that Senator Rubio had said during his career.

SIEGEL: Now, in November of 2009, when Marco Rubio was running for the Republican Senate nomination in Florida, I spent a couple of days with him, first in west Miami where he lives and then as he was campaigning elsewhere in the state. We had a couple of long sit-down interviews and this is what he said on the subject of Cuba and his parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: They came in the late '50s, 1959, I think.

SIEGEL: But did they come already married or did they...

RUBIO: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Oh, I see. I see. These are not (unintelligible) your...

RUBIO: No. My parents are older. I mean, my dad is over 80 and my mom turns 80 next week so - in early November, so they're - but they actually met - my dad was a security guard at an equivalent of a five-and-dime in Cuba and my mom was the cashier and they met, got married, had my brother. He was six years old when they came and they came here in the late 1950s, and actually, had a very frightening situation happen. My grandfather, who was already had been stricken with polio when he was a young man, had an accident. He was hit by a bus. And in Cuba at the time, I mean, when you were in the hospital, they didn't have, like, you know, meals or anything. Your family had to bring the food and they had to take care of you. So my mom went back with my sister and my brother to take care of her father in 1960 and my dad stayed behind working.

Well, 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 finally were able to come, so it was very frightening. And I think that's when they knew for sure that that's not the place they wanted to be.

SIEGEL: So 1959 is wrong, but there was some later problem with the Castro regime after his mother had gone back he's saying.

ROIG-FRANZIA: If that's what the senator said, I would be inclined to take him at his word. At the same time, I would be interested in seeing documentation that supported that in light of some of these other inconsistencies.

SIEGEL: Senator Rubio says his brother came over at the age of six and you say the documents, his application for naturalization, give his birth date as 1950, which is consistent with his coming over at age six in 1956.

ROIG-FRANZIA: Right.

SIEGEL: If Senator Rubio knows how old his brother is, presumably, he would have known he didn't come over in 1959.

ROIG-FRANZIA: It does not take a calculator.

SIEGEL: That's Manuel Roig-Franzia, who is a reporter for The Washington Post.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.