WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has found a safe word for discussing his presidential ambitions: opportunity.
"I don't know how long I can be in public service, but I enjoy public service," he said Wednesday. "As I approach 2016 (I need to decide), do I want to continue that in the Senate, is there some other opportunity out there, or do I want to return to the private sector and give someone else a shot?"
Appearing at a POLITICO forum, Rubio talked about the GOP's problems with Hispanics, saying the country's changing demographics are a "challenge" that can be accomplished through better messaging and by focusing on reforms to the immigration system. Rubio, however, said he prefers incremental steps rather than a comprehensive reform bill and emphasized border control and employment background checks.
He also got a chance to revisit a question about how old the Earth is, a question he equivocated on during a recent interview with GQ magazine. His answer now: at least 4.5 billion years, matching science. But Rubio said that does not clash with his faith.
"The theological debate is how do you reconcile what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches," he said. "For me, actually, when it comes to the age of the Earth, there is no conflict. I believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and I think scientific advances have given us insight into when he did it and how he did it. . . . I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. That means teaching them science, they have to know the science. But also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile those two things as they see fit."
Rubio's answer to GQ — which began, "I'm not a scientist, man" — attracted criticism. "I don't regret it," he said Wednesday. "I wish I would have given a better answer, a more succinct answer, but we went from talking about hip-hop and then it got pivoted to the Earth. I mean, I'm not a robot, I got caught off guard."
Still, the carefulness Rubio displayed in the magazine interview came across Wednesday as well when he was asked other sticky questions that would-be presidential candidates often get, such as, is homosexuality a sin.
"Faith teaches that it is. That's what the Bible teaches, and that's what faith teaches. But it also teaches that there are a bunch of other sins that are no less," he said. "For example, it teaches that lying is a sin. It teaches that disrespecting your parents is a sin. It teaches that stealing is a sin. It teaches that coveting your neighbor, or what your neighbor has, is a sin. So there isn't a person in this room that isn't guilty of sin. I don't go around pointing fingers in that regard."
Though Rubio was confident Mitt Romney would win Florida, he marveled at President Barack Obama's turnout machine, calling it "genius."
"I have admiration for what they did and can't wait to copy it," he said.