(CNN) – While speaking in an interview with CNN en Español, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida appeared to sharpen his rhetoric Tuesday against President Barack Obama in this week's immigration debate.
His remarks were made in a Spanish-language interview with CNN en Español's Anchor/Senior Correspondent Juan Carlos Lopez. Translated into English, the junior senator argued that if Obama "has decided to use this as an opportunity to move (immigration reform) to the left–let's say, to be more flexible–well then he is hurting this effort."
Rubio was referring to proposals laid out in the president's speech Tuesday in Las Vegas, which included three pillars: better enforcement of immigration laws, providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and reforming the legal immigration system.
Obama's speech came a day after a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Rubio, laid out a framework for immigration reform they hope to turn into legislation by March. One of the main premises in the plan drawn up by the so-called "Gang of Eight" is a need to bolster border security before other measures take place.
While Obama said in his remarks the group's work was "encouraging," he signaled disagreement over the state of the border, saying it was more secure than ever.
"We strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants," the president said. "We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000."
In a statement released after the speech, Rubio criticized Obama for not mentioning a guest worker program and for leaving the impression "that he believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right."
Speaking to CNN en Español before the speech, Rubio went further and argued the president was playing politics.
"For the president to come out the next day with his own principles that go against those principles, I believe it's counterproductive and it really shows that the he is more interested in the subject as a political matter that in it as one to be resolved," Rubio said, answering a question about the sticking point between the two plans of border security being tied to a path to citizenship.
During his speech, however, Obama said the senators' proposals were "very much in line" with his own principles.
"So at this moment, it looks like there's a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that's very encouraging. But this time, action must follow. We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate," he said.
If Congress fails to pass legislation in a "timely fashion," he said, he will send up a bill based on his own proposal and "insist that they vote on it right away."
Rubio's tone in the CNN en Español interview seemed to be more critical than in some of his other interviews. In a radio interview with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the strongest language came when Rubio said he thinks the "president is going to take us in a direction that I would not be comfortable with, and I don't think is good for America."
While some Republicans have explicitly pointed to the GOP's declining popularity among Latinos as a big reason for their new push on immigration reform, Rubio wrote he's not seeking reform "because of the last election or future elections."
"I’m doing what I can because I believe it’s important for our country, because conservative principles can make this legislation better, and immigration is one of the few issues where government has a legitimate and central role to play," he wrote Wednesday in on op-ed for the conservative website RedState.
The Florida senator, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, has worked this week to try to sell his immigration proposals to those on the far-right in his party. Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, however, wasn't buying it.
"I love and respect Marco. I think he's just amazingly naïve on this issue," Vitter told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, arguing that the "Gang of Eight" blueprint is the "same old formula" as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. While the bill legalized close to the three million workers, it's largely considered a failure due to poor border security and enforcement provisions.
Rubio argues that in the senators' plan that tighter border security measures must be a prerequisite before other measures involving legalization go into effect. But Vitter said that's unrealistic.
"As soon as you give them a legal status, they are here legally forever and probably they're citizens pretty darn soon after," Vitter later added. "And if Marco thinks no matter what happens or doesn't happen on the enforcement side that's not going to happen, I just think he's nuts."
– CNN’s Steve Brusk contributed to this report.