Marco Rubio meets with attendees during a campaign stop on Feb. 16, 2016 in Summerville, S.C.
Matt Rourke—AP
February 16, 2016 8:44 PM EST

Florida Senator Marco Rubio appeared to chuckle at a supporter’s suggestion Tuesday that Hillary Clinton should be waterboarded at a campaign rally in South Carolina.

As Rubio was discussing his proposal to keep the U.S. military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, open indefinitely during his stump speech in North Myrtle Beach, a member of the more than 500-person audience shouted out “waterboard Hillary,” referencing the tactic, widely considered to be a form of torture, performed on several terrorist suspects who were later imprisoned at the base.

After the easily audible outburst, Rubio responded with a chuckle before seeking to extricate himself from the thorny situation. “I don’t want to know what he said — please don’t, because then — whatever — the press is here,” the GOP presidential hopeful said. “I didn’t even hear what they — I didn’t hear what they said. I know it wasn’t a bad word, that’s all that matters.”

The latter line was a reference to Donald Trump, who last week repeated a vulgarity shouted out about Rubio rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Afterward, Rubio continued where he left off in his remarks.

Candidates often have to find ways to deal with impolitic outbursts from their supporters.

Trump drew fire when he repeated the vulgarity about Cruz, though later maintained his repetition was similar to a retweet. In 2008, then-GOP nominee Arizona Senator John McCain was booed by a crowd of his own supporters when he challenged a questioner’s assertion that then-Senator Barack Obama was “an Arab.” “I have to tell you, Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as President of the United States,” McCain said just weeks before his defeat in the general election.

Spokespeople for the Clinton and Rubio campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the exchange Tuesday night.

Rubio has remained mum on whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture or whether he would reverse the Obama Administration’s ban on the tactic, saying he doesn’t wish to telegraph the nation’s tactics to the enemy.


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