Marco Rubio's embellished family story

Oct 24, 2011

Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia will be online Monday at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss his story about the embellishments Rubio made to his family story as well as the decisions and reporting that went into the report.

Related:

- Document: Declaration of domicile for Mario Rubio

- Rubio pushes back on story

- Marco Rubio updates his Senate Web site biography

- Q&A: Responding to reader comments on the Marco Rubio story

Hello everyone.

The Post reported on its Web site Thursday afternoon and on its front page Friday that Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fl.), has frequently provided an inaccurate account of his family’s migration from Cuba to the United States by saying his parents arrived after Fidel Castro’s takeover of the island.

The Post’s research, based on official government documents, showed that Rubio’s mother, father and older brother actually arrived in the United States in May 1956—two and a half years before Castro’s takeover and six months before Castro even invaded the island.

Rubio did not dispute the Post’s research about his family’s arrival date. On Friday evening, approximately 24 hours after acknowledging that the Post’s research was accurate and that his official Senate biography was incorrect, Rubio corrected his official Senate biography.

Here’s a link to the article:
And here’s a link to one of the documents:

In a statement, Rubio called The Post’s article “outrageous.” He asserted in an op-ed for Politico that The Post accused him of embellishing his family history for political gain

Numerous bloggers and well-known Republicans—including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former U.S. Housing and Development Secretary Mel Martinez—have defended Rubio. Romney called the Post’s article “a smear.” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement that “the recent press article suggesting ill intentions behind the story of Marco's parent’s arrival to the US shows a complete lack of knowledge for what his parents, my parents, and others went through after their homeland was taken over by totalitarian gangsters.” Martinez said: “To diminish the courage of Senator Rubio’s parents and to assert their reason for fleeing Cuba was unrelated to the oppression of a tyrannical and cruel communist dictatorship is wrong.”

Others praised the article, affirmed its findings or criticized the response to it. Politifact gave Rubio a “false” rating for comments about his family’s migration. ProPublica called the article a “must-read” and included it in a list of the week’s “best watchdog journalism.” Politico’s Mike Allen called it a “blockbuster.” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, wrote: “Rubio exaggerated, he was caught, he should correct the record, it’s not the end of the world. But allowing him to argue that his story is ‘essentially’ true opens a door that conservatives should want to keep closed. 

Remember, this is the party that professes to oppose moral relativism and situational ethics.”

Lots of questions in the queue. I’ll get to as many of them as I can. Let’s get right to it.

So why does this matter at all? His parents are exiles whether they came in 1956 or 1961, this story seemed like maybe it would be a big revelation and after reading it there really was nothing there. Thanks for doing the chat.

Good question.  Here's what the experts say:

 

Some consider it important:

Here’s what Maria Cristina Garcia, who is a Cuban-American, and is an expert on Cuban issues at Cornell University, said in an interview with The Washington Post:

“There’s a sense that they’re the true migrants, the true exiles, the ones who really feel a sense of betrayal,” Garcia said. “They tend to look at the people who came before (the Castro victory) as economic migrants.” Sometimes, she said, “they are viewed with suspicion.”

The New York Times wrote: But some Cuban-Americans wonder how Senator Rubio could have gotten the year of his parents’ arrival here so wrong. The date, they said, is integral to every exile story.

“Every Cuban-American knows when their parents arrived and the circumstances under which they arrived,” said George Gonzalez, a Cuban-American political science professor at the University of Miami. “That’s part of the Cuban exile experience, the political and psychological trauma of it. So the idea that he was murky on those does not cut ice.”

And while some Cubans do not draw a distinction between those who fled Cuba after Castro took power and those who left before that date, others do. “To my father and grandparents, if you came before the revolution, it puts you in a different category,” Dr. Gonzalez said.
Some don’t:

Here’s what Andy S. Gomez, a Cuban-American Democrat and senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, told The Miami Herald:

"I have spent my career studying the Cuban exile community and can say with authority that no distinction is made within the exile community between those who arrived in the years leading up to the revolution, and those who came after," Gomez said in a written statement. "They all share the painful heritage of not being able to return home. It’s no wonder The Washington Post made this claim without a single bit of proof to back it up. Because it doesn’t exist."

If they came to this country before Castro took over, how is it that Rubio's family fled Communism?

Legit question to ask. Sen. Rubio  says that his family wanted to return and couldn't because they didn't want to live under a communist regime. (I would urge you to read Sen. Rubio's op-ed published in Politico. I have pasted a link to it in the intoductory remarks of this chat.

It's worth noting that Castro was not in power and the island was not under a communist form of government when his parents came to the US in 1956.

I'd encourage you to consider both the senator's statement and the facts I have outlined in this answer and draw your own conclusion. 

Politically, would the best thing be for Rubio's Mom to have a press conference and admit to embellishing things a bit when speaking to young Marco? At least the media would probably refrain from answering tough questions of an old lady.

It has been reported that Sen. Rubio's mother is in poor health and has had at least one stroke. I'm not sure about her condition at the present moment. But this would seem unlikely to me.

I would add that Sen. Rubio, both in his speeches and in his writings expresses what seems to be a very deep emotional bond with his parents.

Why was there no deep research into the current president's fabrications about his background?  Isn't it far more important that we look into the background of the man who can put American citizens on a secret assassination list?

A lot of people have compared Sen. Rubio's situation to the controversy over President Obama's birthplace and birth certificate.  They are different matters -- the argument about Rubio's eligibility to be president revolves around the contention, by some, that he is not a "natural born citizen" because his parents were not citizens when he was born in Florida in 1971. I communicated with two leading legal scholars on this issue: Laurence Tribe at Harvard and Gabriel Chin at US Davis. Tribe and Chin took opposite positions in the debate over Sen. McCain's eligibility (McCain was born in Panama Canal Zone. Tribe argued McCain was eligible; Chin that he wasn't. But they both said -- emphatically -- that they believe Sen. Rubio would be eligible to be president.  

Did you find any evidence at all that Rubio's family moved back to Cuba at any time? This is what some of his apologists are claiming.

Sen. Rubio says that his mother moved back to Cuba in 1961 for a short time. He says his father stayed back in Miami wrapping up family business. The senator says his mother realized Cuba was transforming into a government system that she could not abide, and the family decided not to move back.

I examined Mrs. Rubio's Cuban passport. It says she was in Cuba from 2/27/61 to 3/29/61. I have no way of knowing whether she was there to visit or to move back.  But the senator says it's the latter.

Is there any evidence that Rubio's parents were part of the government of the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista as were many of the 'revered' exiles in south Florida?

I have seen no such evidence

I'm sorry Manuel. This is much ado about nothing. Your story was over 1600 words and all you had was that Rubio has been misstating the year of his parents' arrival in the US. Don't you guys have editors at the Washington Post? You also seemed to imply that Rubio is incorrect when he says he is the son of exiles. But he's correct

My question: Why didn't you wait until you had something a little substantive before writing this story?

My editors and I determined that this was newsworthy. And that's why we published the story.

Sen. Rubio is one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party, a person invested with great hope among many in the party. He's also widely considered a possible vice presidential or presidential candidate in the future. We typically examine the statements of important public figures. And this story is an example of that approach.

I'll let you draw your own implications about the worthiness of the story and any implications that you believe exist. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and I'd like to share your opinion with our readers so that they can take it into consideration as they assess this story.

My suggested question: Why not also interview Senator Rubio's parents all the questions needed to set the record straight? Ask them pointed questions to clarify what appears to have been embellished by the Senator. Then and in addition, ask Senator Rubio to publish his response(s) to EACH of the points that the Wash. Post article considers to be "embellishment." Estela Gonzalez Barry (a Cuban whose parents left shortly before Fidel Castro took over while Batista was still in power.)

Hi Estela--

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to interview Sen. Rubio's father because he died in 2010.

As I said in a previous answer, it has been reported that Sen. Rubio's mother is in poor health. Of course, I would be more than happy to speak with her if that was something she wanted to do.

All of us have been told things by our parents and grand parents that have been "adjusted" over time. Why should we hold the stories the Rubio family told Marco to any greater degree of scrutiny?

This, of course, is a judgment call.

It was our judgment that Sen. Rubio's family history is an important part of his political identity. He mentions his family frequently in speeches and when writing.

Here are some instances in which Mr. Rubio said his family came to the United States in 1959 or that they came after Castro took power. (Castro took power in 1959.)

Official US Senate Web site: In 1971, Marco was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover. (changed Friday evening – approximately 24 hours after he acknowledged to The Post that it was incorrect.)

US Senate campaign biography: In 1971, Marco was born in Miami to Cuban born parents who came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.

Rubio on Fox News, America’s Nightly Scoreboard, Nov. 2009: “And I think that the direction we’re going in Washington, D.C., would make us more like the rest of the world, and not like the exceptional nation that my parents found when they came here from Cuba in 1959, and the nation they worked in so hard so that I could inherit.”

In an interview with Fox 13 in Tampa. When the interviewer, Kathy Fountain, says his father came from Cuba, Rubio responded: “My parents both did. 1959.”

In a 2009 interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel, Rubio said this about his parents: “They came in the late 50s, 1959, I think.”

Miami Herald, Nov. 1, 2009: Rubio's standard stump speech packages his campaign as the next chapter of a classic American success story. ``I am the son of Cuban exiles,'' he began in Navarre, telling the story of his parents meeting in Havana and moving to the U.S. in 1959 search of a better life.

Do you have any response to the professors that specialize in Cuban relations (from Yale and University of Miami, etc.) that are blasting your story as grossly misrepresenting the exile experience?

Here’s what Maria Cristina Garcia, who is a Cuban-American, and is an expert on Cuban issues at Cornell University, said in an interview with The Washington Post:

“There’s a sense that they’re the true migrants, the true exiles, the ones who really feel a sense of betrayal,” Garcia said. “They tend to look at the people who came before (the Castro victory) as economic migrants.” Sometimes, she said, “they are viewed with suspicion.”

The New York Times wrote: But some Cuban-Americans wonder how Senator Rubio could have gotten the year of his parents’ arrival here so wrong. The date, they said, is integral to every exile story.

“Every Cuban-American knows when their parents arrived and the circumstances under which they arrived,” said George Gonzalez, a Cuban-American political science professor at the University of Miami. “That’s part of the Cuban exile experience, the political and psychological trauma of it. So the idea that he was murky on those does not cut ice.”

And while some Cubans do not draw a distinction between those who fled Cuba after Castro took power and those who left before that date, others do. “To my father and grandparents, if you came before the revolution, it puts you in a different category,” Dr. Gonzalez said.
Some don’t:

Here’s what Andy S. Gomez, a Cuban-American Democrat and senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, told The Miami Herald:

"I have spent my career studying the Cuban exile community and can say with authority that no distinction is made within the exile community between those who arrived in the years leading up to the revolution, and those who came after," Gomez said in a written statement. "They all share the painful heritage of not being able to return home. It’s no wonder The Washington Post made this claim without a single bit of proof to back it up. Because it doesn’t exist."

This was a great story - stick to your guns and don't be bothered with the [criticism].

Thank you

What is the reaction from people in Florida over the revelations? Will it hurt him politcally? Was it truly a major part of his narrative?

There's no question that Sen. Rubio has made his family story a large part of his political narrative. He features it prominently when he's speaking and it was the second line of his Senate Web site bio and was also featured prominently in his campaign bio.

I can't say how the people of Florida will react. Sen. Rubio is certainly a popular figure. I'll leave the analysis of how this affects his political future to the analysts.

Rubio's response reminded me of this cartoon.  Do you think he passed on the story he heard from his family, or did he know the chronology was off but found the story too good to mess up with a couple of inconvenient facts?

I'd rather not speculate. But I'll post this in case people want to look at the cartoon.

It seems pretty simple to me. If I left my home country by choice for economic betterment, then I am an immigrant.  If I left after a political change that made me HAVE to leave, then I am an exile. Why can't the Republicans see this?

Senator Rubio says that his parents are exiles because they wanted to return to their country but could not because of the political changes that were taking place. He considers his family to be exiles. US Rep Ros-Lehtinen and former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez -- both of whom I mentioned earlier -- take the same view.

Others are making the argument you're making:

 

In his retort, it seems that Rubio is saying his parents did not like life in America and wanted to return to Cuba. He goes so far as to say his mother moved back with the intention of staying in Cuba then found Castro's Cuba unliveable. Is he not undermining his frequent claims as to how much his family loves America?

That's not the way I understand what he's saying. He certainly talks a lot about American exceptionalism. His parents' desire to move back to Cuba, if I understand him correctly, has more to do with the tug of wanting to live in the place of your birth and the place you consider your home.

I like to think I have a deep emotional bond with my family, but that is no excuse for me embelleshing the truth for poltical gain.

No question here, but I will post so others can consider it.

Ironically, in "correcting" the record on his family's immigration record, Rubio seems to now represent that his family, once-settled in the US, actually moved back to Cuba during Castro's rule or at least his ascent to power. Aha moment aside prompting their eventual relocation to the US, doesn't that brief return to Cuba seem more like running toward not fleeing communism?

Rubio says his family tried to move back in 1961, then realized the island was heading toward communism. He says they -- like many Cubans -- hoped that the Revolution would turn out differently than it did.

I agree with Senator Martinez that one does not wish to diminish the courage of anyone fleeing Cuba during Castro, yet doesn't it diminish the truth of those who did flee Cuba under Castro when someone makes a false claim that they did so?

I'll throw this out in case anyone wants to think about the question raised here.

I am grateful for both your article and this Live Q & A. You had to anticipate this story would be controversial, that people would take sides and that you would be criticized. Did any of this anticipation influence how the story was written? Was there any advance preparation for the inevitable onslaught of scrutiny? And do you anticipate any follow-up, or is the story largely told, save Sen. Rubio's response? Again, my thanks.

I'm not surprised that there is criticism and I'm not surprised that there is praise. Both are to be expected when you're writing about a political figure, especially one who is considered a rising star and potential vice presidential candidate.

The expected reaction did not influence the way we did this story. The story was the product of careful research. We examined a large number of documents. As I've said in an interview or two this week, I was not convinced when I first came across a document stating that Sen. Rubio's arrived in the US in 1956. I thought it might be a typo because I had heard him say that his parents came in 1959. Then I found his mother's petition for naturalization. It listed the same entry date and was filed the same day as her husband's. At that point I still wasn't convinced. I thought it could have been a sloppy clerk who had processed both their applications. Since I wasn't satisfied I decided to seek out his older brother's naturalization petition. He had applied for naturalization in a different year. But he gave the same entry date. That same date was also listed on an official domicile document in a Florida court. At that point, it was clear that the date I'd seen on the first form was not a typo.

To answer your question, Sen. Rubio has responded. He says he was relying on family oral history and he's accused The Post of treating him unfairly and suggesting that he embellished his family history for political gain.

Many, if not most, Cuban Americans do NOT make a distinction between those who arrived in the US before Castro vs. those who fled during or soon after his coup. Which to me makes it that much more puzzling that Rubio didn't just correct the dates and explain that the crux of his family's exile status is the INABILITY TO RETURN. Instead he restarted the clock by saying the family had in fact moved back DURING Castro's rule and then returned to the US. What do you think is the motivation for his insistence on focusing on fleeing communism as the impetus for migration rather than the inability to return as the crux of his family's exile status?

I'd rather not speculate about the senator's motives. He says he learned the exact dates recently. Occassionally, he's given different dates for their arrival -- 1957 or 1958. But his Senate Web site says unequivocally that they came after Castro, and he's said in other interviews -- unequivocally -- that they came in 1959. At least 26 news outlets have published or broadcast stories saying they came in 1959 or after Castro, and I'm not aware of any corrections being run. One date that a Nexis search doesn’t show Rubio using is 1956 – which also happens to be the correct date, as was clearly shown in our story.

You mentioned you were interested in pusuing this story because the Senator is a rising star. Let's be honest, would you have had the same motivation to write this kind of story about a descrepancy in the past of rising star Senator Obama from Illinois?

Yes

Being in the political limelight, as is Mr. Rubio, he should view this as a great opportunity to show if he can "take the heat". A potential candidate for high public office needs to know how to field this type of question if s/he's serious about the commitment. How does he stack up to that challenge?

We'll see. So far, he has vigorously criticized the piece and he's gotten support from a lot of blogs and a lot of well-known Republicans.

My mother was a Cuban imigrant - college age - and I don't know for sure when she came. I think it was 1959, but I am not certain. So no, not every Cuban-American knows the eact details of a parent's immigration story.

Thank you for sharing this. Your observation is shared by some Cuban-Americans and not shared by others.

Part of the immigrant experience is often homesickness. I wouldn't hold it against the Rubios if they tried to move back to Cuba but found that they could not live therre. I have Engluish relatives who moved back and forth a few times before they realized that the old saying about not being able to go home again was true.

I'm posting this so others can take a look.

Why is does the Post only go after up and coming minority Republicans?  Is it to punish them for leaving the faith of the liberals?  This whole story is a hatchet job.  Where was digging into Obama's family (not where he was born)?  What did his father really believe?  did Obama tell the whole truth in his book?

I think the paper pursues probing stories about politicians regardless of their party affiliation. But you're entitled to your opinion, and I'm posting it so others can consider when they make their own assessments of the paper.

OK. Thanks for joining this chat. Bye.

In This Chat
Manuel Roig-Franzia
Manuel Roig-Franzia is a reporter for The Washington Post.
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