Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' For Poland, a time for justice Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Fla.) on Wednesday defended his decision to work on bipartisan immigration reform and said "it has been a real trial" hearing Tea Party charges that he has turned his back on conservatives.

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Rubio, who is widely touted as a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said his interest in passing a comprehensive immigration bill wasn’t linked to any future ambitions.

“This certainly isn’t about gaining support for future office,” he said in a Senate floor speech.

Rubio enjoyed strong support from Tea Party activists when he won his Senate seat in 2010 and has been a favorite among Republicans in early 2016 presidential polls.

But he has faced a backlash in recent weeks over his work on immigration reform that some conservative Republicans say could hurt his chances of winning the nomination, if he runs.

“I have received numerous emails and calls from conservatives and Tea Party activists. Their opinions and concerns really matter to me because they stood with me during my election,” Rubio said.

"To hear the worry, anxiety and growing anger in the voices of so many people who helped me get elected to the Senate, who I agree with on virtually every other issue, has been a real trial for me.”

Rubio was a central player in the Gang of Eight negotiations that produced the immigration reform legislation, and he led the early effort to sell the bill to conservatives.

After the 2012 elections revealed deep GOP weakness among Hispanic voters, Rubio was seen by many establishment Republicans as a leader who could help restore the party’s standing with the fast-growing demographic.

But Rubio's popularity with Republican voters has taken a significant hit in recent months as the Florida lawmaker worked to sell the immigration reform bill.

A Rasmussen poll earlier this week found the senator is viewed favorably by 58 percent of Republican voters, down 10 percentage points from May and 15 points from February.

Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) recently said he wouldn't rule out a primary challenge to Rubio if he runs for reelection in the Senate.

Though Rubio focused in his speech on addressing Tea Party concerns, he said “for me, this isn’t about catering to any group for political gain.”

Rubio said he got involved in immigration reform talks for the right reasons.

“I ran for office to try to fix things that are wrong with this country,” Rubio said. “And that’s what this is about for me.”

Rubio said he didn’t want to leave immigration reform simply to Democrats because he knew the issue of border security wouldn’t have been strong enough.

Rubio said Tea Party activists aren’t “anti-immigrant” — they just don’t trust the federal government to enforce immigration laws that have gone unenforced over the last 30 years.

“It’s because the government has failed them so many times before,” Rubio said.

The Senate is expected to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act later this week.

The legislation would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, toughen border security, create a guest-worker program and boost high-skilled immigration.

Rubio said the bill “has flaws” but he stressed “it also has important reforms that conservatives have been trying to get for years,” including changing the nation’s immigration system to one based on work skills and merit.

“This isn’t about becoming a Washington dealmaker,” he said. “Truthfully, it would have been a lot easier to just sit back, vote against any proposal and give speeches about how I would have done it differently.”

Rubio, Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday Grassley willing to send staff to California to speak with Kavanaugh accuser MORE (R-S.C.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Key GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Gillibrand: Kavanaugh accuser shouldn't participate in 'sham' hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ill.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap MORE (D-N.J.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills Multiple NFL players continue on-field protests during national anthem MORE (D-Colo.) comprise the Gang of Eight.

This story was originally posted at 2:06 p.m. and has been updated.