Sen. Marco Rubio took an unprecedented step Wednesday, opposing the National Defense Authorization Act in protest of the NDAA’s omission of penalties against Chinese telecom giant ZTE.
“I have never opposed an NDAA, and I have supported every single one of them, despite the fact that they didn’t have everything I wanted or everything I liked — until today … We have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world,” Rubio asserted in remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
The Senate voted 87-10 Wednesday to approve the measure, an annual policy bill that authorizes $716 billion in total defense spending for the coming fiscal year. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted in favor of the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it last week 359-54, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
This latest decision amplifies a position established months ago when Rubio began calling attention to ZTE as a part of a larger offensive against Chinese expansionism. Rubio was willing to challenge Trump on the matter after the president cut a deal with the company imposing a $1 billion fine for flouting sanctions on Iran.
China, according to Rubio, believes itself “predestined to be the world’s most powerful country and … predestined to surpass the United States, and by mean surpass I mean surpass us geo-politically, economically and militarily.”
“It’s time we open our eyes. We are engaged in a geopolitical competition not with some poor agrarian country trying to catch up, but with a global superpower who is quickly nipping at our heels and doing so unfairly, with the intent of replacing us in the world as the most powerful country militarily, economically, geopolitically and technologically,” Rubio said.
ZTE, Rubio said, “is a part of a broader problem, and that is that we have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world, and if we do that, the world will be worse off for it and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for failing to act.”
In opposing the NDAA, Rubio was compelled to go against a measure larded with military spending for Florida.
“There is a lot of good in this legislation, and it makes it difficult to be an opponent of it. For Florida, it’s authorized over $200 million for military construction in the state. Littoral Combat Ship facilities at Naval Station Mayport, Air Traffic Control Towers at Whiting Field, F-35 facilities that are important at Eglin Air Force Base, KC-135 flight simulators at MacDill Air Force Base, it authorizes the Secretary of the Air Force to build a cyberspace test facility at Eglin,” Rubio asserted.
However, the issue of China — at least for the Senator — outweighs the immediate political benefit.