WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday attempted to distance himself from the government shutdown strategy he and other potential GOP presidential candidates in the Senate pursued for much of the summer, arguing that blame for the shutdown rests with President Barack Obama.
"I was never in favor of shutting down the government or of defunding the government. I was in favor of voting to fund the government fully," Rubio said on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace. "The only thing I didn't want to see is us wasting any more money on Obamacare, which is already a disaster."
Rubio, along with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), led the Senate-side GOP push for the government shutdown strategy. Over the summer, Rubio refused to back any funding package for the federal government that would allow the health care law to go into effect. Absent a funding bill, the government would be forced to shut down.
"On this issue we’re willing to fight no matter what the consequences, politically or otherwise [are]. If that issue is not Obamacare, I can’t understand what issue it would be," Rubio told conservative talk radio host Mark Levin in August. "You cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it."
At the time, Rubio took heat from conservative strategists who said he was joining the "Suicide Caucus" of Republicans seeking to force a politically damaging government shutdown.
Later in the "Fox News Sunday" interview, Rubio tacitly acknowledged his earlier stance on the issue. He complained about being criticized for not being "realistic" about the prospects for defunding Obamacare. He said that advocates who don't take into account the House GOP's opposition to many aspects of immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrations, are themselves being unrealistic.
"We have been lectured about being realistic: 'You're not going to get rid of Obamacare, repeal it, defund it -- you need to be realistic.' They need to be realistic about immigration reform. The fact of the matter is that the House has very strong opinions on what it should look like. I think many Democrats have to make the decision about immigration. Do they want it as a political talking point, or are they looking for a result?"
Rubio told Wallace that he still supports a pathway to citizenship. But, he said, he thinks a piecemeal approach in which several different bills are voted on independently is ideal. Democrats and other immigration reform advocates have opposed the piecemeal approach, arguing that the House GOP will refuse to address many parts of the immigration problem -- particularly the pathway to citizenship, which for many is the most critical part of the issue.
Rubio also acknowledged that the government shutdown had made it more difficult to pass immigration reform.
"I think immigration reform is harder to achieve today than it was three weeks ago because of what happened here," Rubio said.