Following the trail blazed by 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo has recently emerged as a Republican increasingly watched by the press in and outside his native Florida.
On April 14, hours after the White House made its surprise announcement that President Barack Obama planned to lift Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Curbelo, just 35 and barely three months in office, made his feelings known to Newsmax.
"This is not a strategic decision or one based on circumstances," he told us. "It is a condition spelled out by the Cuban government during secret negotiations. And it is reckless."
To no one's surprise, Curbelo quickly weighed in with fellow Miami-area Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in support of her legislation to maintain Cuba's designation as a terrorist sponsor.
The son of Cuban exiles told us in no uncertain terms: "I’ve made a personal decision that as long as the Castro brothers are in power, I will never visit Cuba. My grandfather was imprisoned for his political beliefs as a Castro opponent and held for 12 years. I don't have any interest in visiting the land ruled by Fidel and Raul Castro."
On the announcement from White House press secretary Josh Earnest that the president would love to visit Cuba, Curbelo remarked: "The chance to visit the island often guides his decisions rather than the long-term interests of the United States."
A graduate of the University of Miami, Curbelo worked in the public relations business and eventually launched his own firm. But his passion has always been politics. As he put it, "I have always had a special appreciation for the American political system, partly because my parents grew up in a system in which democratic participation was unknown."
Beginning in his teenage years, Curbelo worked as a volunteer in Republican campaigns. He served as state director for Republican Sen. George LeMieux, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2009, and decided not to compete in the 2010 race won by Rubio.
Curbelo won his first race for office with his election to the Miami-Dade School Board as he went on to spend what he called "a wonderful four-plus years."
The father of two said: "When you have children of your own, it really forces you to think about the future. You participate more in the community. This was one of the driving forces behind my decision to run for the School Board."
In 2014, Curbelo won a contested primary for nomination to face Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in Florida's 26th District. Running on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare and creating economic opportunity, the Republican hopeful ousted the incumbent with 53 percent of the vote.
Almost overnight, political pundits were dubbing Curbelo "the young Rubio" and likening him to Florida's charismatic junior senator, also the son of Cuban immigrants.
"I admire Sen. Rubio," Curbelo told us, adding that he also admires former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also a White House hopeful.
"I know both of them very well and they would make wonderful presidents," Curbelo said. "I've seen the work product of each of them and either would provide the leadership that is sorely lacking in the White House today."
Since our interview, Curbelo has endorsed Bush.
'America Must Never, Ever Default'
Like most of his Republican colleagues in the House, Curbelo hopes for an opportunity to repeal Obamacare and enact one of the more market-based, patient-oriented healthcare plans offered by GOP lawmakers.
But should the King v. Burwell case before the Supreme Court go against the administration and strike down the subsidies for Obamacare in more than 30 states, the Floridian freely concedes "the president will never sign anything Congress passes that undoes or even compromises on what he considers his signature legislation."
In the event of a Supreme Court decision that upends much of Obamacare, Curbelo feels Congress needs "to build a bridge that will allow people to keep their health insurance until a Republican president takes office in 2017 and we can build a new policy."
On an issue that sharply divides House Republicans, Curbelo promised without hesitation that he would never vote against lifting the debt ceiling and thus shutting down the funds to operate government.
"I refuse to play games on that issue," he told us. "We need budget reform and we need to tackle spending to deal with the deficit. But America must keep its promises and meet its obligations. America must never, ever default."
A member of the Transportation and Infrastructure, Small Business, and Education and the Workforce committees, the freshman lawmaker is eager to work on the issues of education and the economy that so motivate him.
"Economic opportunity is one of my top priorities," Curbelo said. "This country gave my immigrant parents an opportunity to achieve success. One generation removed from poverty, someone like me can serve in Congress. This is due to the conservative economic principles of the Republican Party that gave my parents that opportunity.
"We now need to reform Social Security and Medicare to free up resources for other priorities, including education for our children and support for the military. Anyone who is willing to put in time and hard work should get ahead, not just get by. That's what motivates me."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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