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Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is launching a new series of attacks that say his Republican opponent Marco Rubio is "too extreme for Florida."
The attacks are housed on Meek's campaign website and include a number of provocative claims -- that Rubio doesn't believe in global warming, that he wants to privatize Social Security, and that he wants to borrow $700 billion from China to fund "tax cuts for the rich." Those claims sound dubious, but we decided to focus on the attack Meek launched on Oct. 15, 2010.
The website included an altered comic-like photo of Rubio standing in front of a border fence. The image has a word bubble coming from Rubio's mouth that says, "Solo Ingles," which means English only.
The claim got our attention because Rubio is a child of Cuban immigrants who speaks both Spanish and English fluently. Rubio also has been airing an ad for his Senate campaign in Spanish. So we wondered if it is true.
There's no doubt Rubio supports English as the official language of the United States.
In June 2009, Rubio said, "We have to have a common language that unites the people,'' and said that language should be English.
In September 2009, Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos reiterated that position, which Rubio again confirmed during a Univision debate. "Marco believes learning English is essential for success in the United States, and should be the official and unifying language of America," Burgos told a reporter.
But while there's no doubt Rubio supports English as the official language, there's also no doubt he opposes any proposal to ban other languages.
From that same June 2009 interview -- "I'm not in favor of banning other languages, but my name is spelled the same way in Spanish as it is in English."
And then again from the Univision debate in September -- "That doesn't mean English only," he says. "People should learn as many languages as they can … But the most important thing that recent arrivals can do for their children is make them proficient in the English language."
What's the impact of making English the official language? Not much. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has examined this question several times, most recently in January 2007. It concluded that designating English the "official" or "national" language would have no practical impact.
An official designation alone would not cancel government programs, for instance -- although several pieces of separate legislation proposed in Congress would repeal some federal mandates on things such as non-English ballots.
Rubio hasn't staked out a position on anything like that.
Instead, Rubio supports making English the official language of the United States, but says he wouldn't want to ban other languages. We don't think that equals an "English only" policy. English, for instance, already is the official language of the state of Florida (been that way since 1988), yet the state publishes driver's license forms, state voting materials and public school districts information all in Spanish. We rate the claim Falso (False).
Kendrick Meek campaign, Marco Rubio: Too Extreme for Florida, accessed Oct. 15, 2010
Think Progress, The Wonk Room, "Florida Senate Candidate Marco Rubio Speaks Spanish To Win Votes, But Espouses English-Only Policies", June 17, 2009
Palm Beach Post Post on Politics, "Crist, Meek, Rubio Clash in First Senate Debate," Sept. 17, 2010
National Review, "Rubio-Crist-Meek Debate Liveblog," Sept. 17, 2010
Miami Herald, "Rubio, DeMint parse immigration stances," June 16, 2009
Marco Rubio campaign, "Padres," accessed Oct. 15, 2010
Yahoo! news, "Marco Rubio defends Spanish ad, support for English as official language," Sept. 29, 2010
Florida Constitution, Article 2 Section
Congressional Research Report on English as the Official Language of the U.S. Jan. 25, 2007 (CRS doesn't publish its reports online so interest groups and sometimes members of Congress do it for them.)
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