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Detroit — Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio explained Thursday how he would cut taxes and reform schools before a packed house of some of the region’s business and political leaders.

In a wide-ranging address, Rubio spoke of Detroit as “truly the heart of the old economy” and the “perfect place to discuss how we can embrace a new American economy.”

“I believe the way forward is to embrace the future and modernize our government,” the U.S. senator from Florida said at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel. “I believe if we once again make America the best place in the world to create jobs, and empower every American to fill those jobs, then our generation will embrace the new American economy and lay the foundation for a new American century.”

Rubio credited Michigan’s Republican governor and cited Detroit’s rebound as an example of what can happen under “pro-growth, pro-business leadership.”

“Under Gov. Rick Snyder, corporate taxes have dropped significantly, the city’s financial climate has finally been reset through bankruptcy, and thanks to numerous pro-growth reforms, Michigan now has one of the best entrepreneurial environments in the country,” he said at the Detroit Economic Club. “As a result, innovation is surging, jobs are returning, lights are back on in buildings once vacant.”

As president, Rubio said he would overhaul the tax code, referring to a plan with U.S. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that he helped unveil in July. He says his “tax plan will begin by cutting the corporate rate to be competitive with the average of 25 percent for developed nations” and “allow 100 percent expensing” of capital invested in a company, including on new equipment.

Rubio says those efforts “would grow the economy by 15 percent, grow wages by 12.5 percent and create almost 2.7 million full-time jobs,” but didn’t explain how he would pay for it.

In addition, Rubio’s plan would raise the per-child tax credit as high as $2,500 and remove the marriage penalty for joint-filing tax returns.

“A decade from now, all four of my children will be adults,” said Rubio, who follows presidential candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in talking before the economic club this year. “I don’t want to have to explain to them why the America our parents left us was the greatest nation on earth, but the one we are leaving them is not.”

He also embraced the expansion of trade with foreign countries, which runs against Michigan’s reputation for seeking trade restrictions.

“In Michigan alone, trade accounts for 1.2 million jobs — but it could account for even more,” he said. “As president, I will aggressively look for new opportunities to expand free trade. It is more important than ever that we finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships.”

The Trans-Pacific pact, which is being negotiated, would involve six Asian countries — including Japan and Vietnam — as well as the United States, Canada and Mexico. Ford Motor Co. opposes such a trade agreement unless it has restrictions on currency manipulation.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a proposed trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

“I thought he was pretty good,” said Don Siefkes, a Clinton Township retiree who was in the audience. “But I think he’s dead wrong when he said ‘I support the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerhips).’ ... He’s wrong on that. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (the world’s trade laws) have been disastrous for American workers and Mexican workers.”

Prior to the speech, the Cuban-American politician met some Republicans at Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine in Detroit. One participant, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, posted photos of the event on his Facebook page.

After the speech in a question-and-answer session, Rubio was given the opportunity to touch on a variety of subjects.

On the lesson of the success of untraditional candidates like businessman Donald Trump and Detroit native Ben Carson, he noted that Americans have voted for change in four of the past five elections, but little has changed in Washington, D.C. “People should be fed up and frustrated with leaders who are trapped in the past,” he said. “But we can’t let anger define us as a people.”

On Edward Snowden, who leaked information about how the U.S. government collected bulk phone records: “There are American men and women in uniform all over the world who are in danger because of what he’s done. ... There is nothing heroic about what he did.”

“So I think he should subject himself to American justice and serve his time in jail for being a traitor,” he said, a statement that elicited spontaneous applause from the traditionally quiet audience.

On the future outcome of the proposed Iran nuclear deal: “Iran will have nuclear weapons in less than 10 years and, at that point, we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”

Among the crowd who turned out at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel were freshman U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, who has not endorsed a candidate from the GOP field of 16 candidates, but said he has been impressed with Rubio.

“I think Marco Rubio best expresses our conservative principles in an attractive way,” he said. “He is able to personalize issues in a way that is persuasive, and we need someone like that in the White House.”

The Democratic National Committee criticized Rubio’s address, including his two fictional middle-class Americans Danielle and David.

“Not surprisingly, Rubio’s record makes it clear that he has no new ideas — and the middle class will suffer under his watch,” the DNC said, noting he had opposed the $85 billion auto bailout, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and has voted to cut Pell Grants.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writers David Shepardson and Chad Livengood contributed.

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