Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., skipped the Conservative Political Action Conerence last year, but returned Thursday to the place where he made his national political debut in 2010. He received a warm welcome from the annual gathering of conservatives.
Rubio touched on familiar themes -- his belief that America should have a robust international posture, his immigrant heritage, lower taxes and energy. He also criticized the federal law requiring religious-based institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide contraceptives as part of their health care coverage. Rubio in recent days has emerged as one of the leading voices on the issue, which Republicans have cast as an attack on religious liberty.
"The first amendment still applies, religious freedom still exists," Rubio said, a line that drew wild applause. "This isn't even a social issue, this is a constitutional issue."
Rubio spent much of the speech, though, attacking the president -- an approach that made him sound much like the potential vice presidential contender he swears up and down he's not.
"The president of the United States looks like he is a really good father, looks like he is a really good husband," Rubio said, pausing, "but he is a terrible president."