"Boo this man!" screamed obviously fed-up audience members as the senator took his seat onstage. "Give back the money, Marco!" another man belted out at the top of his lungs. "Those kids died because of you!"
When Rubio agreed to step into the Thunder Dome, which was meant as a forum to kick around ideas about how to stop the seemingly inevitable next mass shooting, everyone expected a big backlash over the $3.3 million the senator has taken from the NRA while steadfastly refusing any gun-control measures. In the arena where the Florida Panthers play, Rubio was the puck, and everyone got a chance to take a few shots.
And the senator actually budged a little on his anti-gun-control stance, agreeing he'd like to change the age to buy an assault weapon to 21 and ban bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. But on the two issues the audience most loudly demanded — a refusal to take NRA donations and a full ban on assault weapons — Rubio was still a firm no.
On a night when Rubio took so much abuse, both on- and off-camera, the most crushing part was the moment Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky pressed the senator on whether he would once and for all say NRA money was no longer welcome in his coffers.
Let's just say Rubio didn't turn in his NRA card.
"The positions I hold on these issues of the Second Amendment, I've held since the day I entered office in the city of West Miami as an elected official," Rubio said. "People buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment."
Student Cameron Kasky asks Marco Rubio whether he will pledge not to take any more NRA money pic.twitter.com/kJi1Tot2YT— Axios (@axios) February 22, 2018
"In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?" Kasky asked.
"I think in the name of 17 people, I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this from getting a gun," Rubio replied.
Those words did not go over well with a crowd that was looking for concrete stances and actions to keep children safe. After all, Stoneman Douglas is scheduled to resume classes next week even while many of the students have said they will not return until steps are taken to make the mass shooting that killed 17 of their classmates and teachers the last of its kind.
Rubio's slight move on bump stocks and the age limit on rifles felt like negotiations to the crowd of 5,000 or so that showed up to hear solutions, not ideas.
Whenever Rubio or NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch took the mike, there was a distinct "we call BS" vibe inside the BB&T Center. Nearly everyone in attendance — from dads who had clearly come to the town hall straight from work, to classmates and friends of the shooting victims — screamed in the general direction of the stage where Jake Tapper sat. People wanted answers, the hell with being cordial. That time had passed. All high roads and the "nice ways" were obviously dead ends.
That vibe was captured perfectly by the father of victim Jaime Guttenberg, Fred Guttenberg, who flat-out roasted Rubio for refusing to take a more concrete stand.
This morning, Rubio made it perfectly clear that even after listening to so many emotional survivors and their families, he still doesn't get it:
Father of Florida school shooting victim confronts Sen. Marco Rubio: "Your comments this week and those of our President have been pathetically weak" https://t.co/puYEwpdgTl #StudentsStandUp https://t.co/AC5Zh1NuJa— CNN (@CNN) February 22, 2018
Quinnipiac found only two days ago that 67 percent of Americans want military-style weapons banned. Only 29 percent oppose that idea.
But to Rubio, the "mainstream" obviously means the NRA, which has kept him in office for decades with millions of dollars in donations — and will continue to do so until Floridians finally put a stop to it.