Rubio, Portman challenge Obama's understanding of his country

Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Marco Rubio, both potential vice presidential picks, suggested Thursday to a conservative gathering that President Obama and Democrats don't understand the nature of the United States on an economic or a religious level.

"Is the source of our greatness that we've had these really good presidents and these really good senators who are so smart that they know what's the best for the rest of us? We should listen to them? Is the source of our freedom that we have this government that spends its money so wisely and so strategically that that's what's created jobs and created opportunity? Well that's what one side of the political equation in America literally believes," Rubio, R-Fla., said at the 2012 Faith & Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing.

"They say things that are divisive, by design," Rubio told the crowd of about 200, referring to Democrats and Obama. "They literally pit Americans against each other by design for purposes of winning an election, and that's never who we've been. And that is never who we've aspired to be and that is not who we should become."

In hs fiery speech, Rubio derided "enlightened leaders that went to Harvard, Yale or really good schools," without mentioning that his party's presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, received law and business degrees from Harvard.

Portman, R-Ohio, was more somber. At times his speech became deeply personal as he recalled the role of faith in his own life and told the story of turning down a promotion in the George H.W. Bush administration to return to his cancer-stricken mother in Ohio.

The emotion gave way to a critique of the White House in the second half of his remarks. "The president gave us a glimpse into the failed philosophy that he has chosen last week when he proclaimed that the private sector was doing just fine. He needs to get out more," Portman said.

He also criticized as an attack on religious freedom the administration's recent push to expand birth control coverage in insurance policies offered by Catholic hospitals and universities. "This administration simply doesn't get it. A conscious protection that asks faith-based groups to abandon their mission of charity is no protection at all," Portman said.

Both men deflected questions about their vice presidential prospects, Portman by declining to answer questions, and Rubio by simply letting them hang in the air with no response.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.