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Week 1: Cabinet picks contradict Donald Trump stands on some issues

The lack of fireworks surrounding Senate consideration of President-elect Donald Trump‘s Cabinet picks may reflect a slew of statements his choices have made contradicting the billionaire businessman’s position on key issues.

Trump acknowledged the differences early Friday, posting a message on his Twitter account saying: “All my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

This week’s confirmation hearings produced an odd political chemistry where, for instance, one of the harshest examinations of a Trump Cabinet choice came from one of Trump’s fellow Republicans, presidential campaign rival Sen. Marco Rubio.

Despite Democrats’ dismay over some of Trump’s selections, the hearings were relatively tranquil, with Democrats generally restrained even in quizzing the more contentious picks. The reason, according to a few Democrats: The nominees are proving more palatable than Trump himself.

“As I meet members of the Cabinet I’m puzzled because many of them sound reasonable,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Far more reasonable than their president.”

That could change in weeks to come, because some of the most potentially explosive hearings are still pending, including the scrutiny of former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary.

Several of Trump’s Cabinet selections this week made statements this week contradicting policy stances espoused by their soon-to-be boss on issues ranging from Russia and NATO to climate change and Muslims.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, picked for attorney general, said he’s against any outright ban on immigration by Muslims, in contrast to Trump’s onetime call to suspend admittance of Muslims until U.S. officials could learn more about nature of the threat of extremism.

His secretary of state candidate, Rex Tillerson, took a relatively hard line on Washington’s dealings with Russia, even though Trump has been talking about improving relations between Washington and Moscow and held out for days before saying he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the U.S. election process.

Tillerson demurred, however, when one senator tried to lure him into calling President Vladimir Putin, whom he knows, a “war criminal,” although he emphasized support for NATO commitments that Trump had questioned. The secretary-of-state designate also said the United States should not back away from its efforts against nuclear proliferation, notwithstanding Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that some key U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea provide their own defense.

Some of the toughest questioning of Tillerson came not from Democrats but from Rubio, who grilled the Exxon Mobil executive on human rights issues.

As Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing approaches, Democrats have set up a website to solicit stories from the thousands of people whose homes were foreclosed on by OneWest Bank while he headed a group of investors who owned the bank. They hope to use Mnuchin’s nomination hearing to attack Trump’s populist appeal with working-class voters and cast themselves as defenders of the middle class.

Thus far, though, Republicans are congratulating themselves for generally smooth sailing. And overall, the lack of drama may also be due to the decision by Democrats while in the Senate majority to lower the vote threshold for Cabinet nominees and others from 60 votes to 50, allowing Republicans to ensure approval as long as they can hold their 52-seat majority together.

“The purpose of confirmation hearings is to examine the record and views of potential nominees and I think that’s what these hearings are doing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think it’s likely that all of the Cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed, I think the hearings have gone quite well this week.”

A hearing Thursday for neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development featured some pointed questioning from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but also warm exchanges between Carson and other committee Democrats. Afterward Carson thanked the panel and said that it “was actually kind of fun.”

Sessions was denied confirmation once before by the Senate, but that was three decades ago for a federal judgeship. This time around the Alabaman is a sitting senator and was treated gently, for the most part, by his colleagues, even when Democrats brought up the racial issues that brought him down him last time around. There was potential for drama as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., broke with Senate tradition to testify against his colleague, but it came on the second day of the hearing after Sessions had finished testifying, so he was not even in the room.

Tillerson had the rockiest outing thus far, with Rubio pressing him on Russia and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon confronting him about climate change and other issues. With Rubio and others undecided on supporting Tillerson, his ultimate confirmation is in question. But even with Tillerson, Democrats seemed to pull their punches at times.

“I don’t want to argue with you,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico remarked at one point, seeming to speak for several colleagues.

And it was practically bipartisan lovefests at the hearings for the choices for Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo; retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense; and retired Gen. John Kelly for Homeland Security.

“Pompeo’s very popular, Mattis, Kelly — these are popular selections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The hearings seemed to underscore some emerging dynamics of Trump’s relations with Capitol Hill. Despite his highly unconventional approach, and his lack of Capitol Hill experience, many of his appointees and aides could have been selected by any other Republican, and the Senate is responding accordingly.

And even where Trump’s surprising approach raises the potential for problems, congressional Republicans are working overtime to paper them over, not highlight them.

“We are in complete sync,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., insisted Thursday in a discussion about a different topic, health care.

That could change in weeks to come, as the Senate holds hearings on Mnuchin and other more divisive selections. These include conservative Rep. Tom Price for Health and Human Services; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a vocal denier of climate change science, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department.

Still, given that it’s the Senate, not daytime TV, there may be a limit to the potential for conflict, said Ben Marter, Durbin’s communications director. “You have to adjust your excite-o-meter down a little bit, because it’s a Senate hearing. It’s not Maury Povich.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio quickly keeps promise to stand up to Donald Trump in Senate

Marco Rubio promised during his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate that he would stand up to Donald Trump when necessary.

“Necessary” didn’t take long to arrive.

It came Wednesday during a confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.

Rubio responded with what I thought was his finest hour as the junior senator from Florida. He showed plenty of backbone, conviction and passion in relentlessly hammering Tillerson about his stance (or non-stance) on Russia’s appalling human rights record.

It was a bold gambit, but it’s one I believe Rubio made on principle. In so doing he risks the wrath of the incoming president, not to mention his own Republican Party.

That showed a truckload of gumption.

Now, I may have to amend the previous sentence if after all that Rubio toes the GOP line and votes to confirm Tillerson. I can’t imagine that happening now, though, and as it stands now, Rubio could be the swing vote that would lead the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to turn thumbs-down on Tillerson.

That wouldn’t necessarily doom his appointment, as the full Senate could confirm him with a simple majority vote. Republicans hold a 52-46 edge there (with two independents, who caucus with Democrats).

Taking the political intrigue out of it for a second, though, Rubio’s action during Wednesday’s hearing backed up his full-throated condemnation of nations like Russia and Cuba who rule with torture, murder and a disregard for human life.

I haven’t agreed with Rubio’s persistent hard-line stance on Cuba, mostly because I believe the U.S. policy of sanctions has succeeded only in bringing misery to the Cuban people. But there is no such ambiguity with what’s happening with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Rubio placed himself squarely on the front line in the battle to oppose him.

When Tillerson said “I would not reach that conclusion” after Rubio asked if the nominee considers Putin a war criminal, what followed was a statement of fact that was a stinging indictment of what appears to be president-elect Trump’s position.

“Let me describe the situation in Aleppo, and perhaps it will help you reach that conclusion,” Rubio said. “In Aleppo, Mr. Putin has directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign (assisting the Syrians). He has targeted schools, markets, and other civilian infrastructure that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

“This is not the first time Mr. Putin has been involved in campaigns of this kind. Based on all that, and what’s publicly in the record about what has happened in Aleppo … you are still not prepared to say Vladimir Putin and his military have violated the rules of war and conducted war crimes in Aleppo?”

Tillerson said those were “serious charges” and he needed more information.

Rubio shot back, “It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin and his military have conducted war crimes in Aleppo. It is never acceptable, you would agree, for a military to specifically target civilians, which is what’s happening there. … I find it “discouraging” your inability to cite that…”

But he wasn’t done, following up with, “Do you believe Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents?”

Tillerson said didn’t have enough information, so Rubio gave him some.

“Are you aware that people who oppose Vladimir Putin wind up dead all over the world – poisoned, shot in the back of the head? Do you think that is coincidental, or do you that it is possible – or likely, as I believe – that it was part of an effort to murder his political opponents?”

Tillerson said he needed more information.

“None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson. These people are dead,” Rubio said.

It was a promise kept by Rubio. In Washington, that is especially unexpected and refreshing.

Marco Rubio votes to repeal Affordable Care Act

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has cast his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Early Thursday morning, the Senate GOP took a first step towards a repeal of the law – which they’ve long said was a goal of theirs and which President-elect Donald Trump made a campaign promise to do. In a marathon voting session, they approved a budget resolution that would speed through the repeal of the law.

Rubio was right on board with that.

“ObamaCare has led to rising premiums, a collapse of the individual insurance market and fewer choices for patients,” Rubio said. “The law is an absolute failure, and its proponents insist it must be salvaged with a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies. We’ve now taken an important first step to repeal this law and replace ‎it with a patient-centered approach that expands access to providers and lowers costs of care.

“It is my hope and expectation that the transition to a replacement program can be done relatively seamlessly and minimize disruptions to patients.”

Opponents of the measure say a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous and leave many people without health care, as well as leaving people with pre-existing conditions unable to find coverage.

The GOP and Trump say they’ll work towards implementing a replacement for the law that will be better, though no details on what that plan will be have surfaced.

Marco Rubio grills Rex Tillerson on Russia: Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s concerns regarding Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin took center stage in Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday when he grilled Rex Tillerson over whether the secretary of state nominee believes Putin is a war criminal, and whether he believes Putin was directly involved in cyber attacks to affect the 2016 American election.

Tillerson said he was not willing to call Putin a war criminal without having more information, all but visibly infuriating Rubio.

However, the nominee of president-elect Donald Trump did say that the reports he has read on Russian cyber interference attempts with the American election are “clearly troubling” and that the assumption that Putin was involved is “a fair assumption.”

Rubio’s entire time questioning Tillerson focused on Russia. He began by questioning Tillerson about the reports that Russia ran a broad hacking campaign and then leaked the gleaned information to harm Democrat Hillary Clinton‘s candidacy and to forward Trump’s. When Tillerson first demurred about whether he believed Putin was directly involved, Rubio pressed, pointing out that the Exxon-Mobile CEO’s long, personal relationship with Russia and direct dealing with Putin, and demanding to know if  he had an opinion that Putin most likely would have been involved.

“I think that’s a fair assumption,” Tillerson finally responded.

Next, Rubio turned to a bill that he and a bipartisan coalition of senators rolled out Monday, which would impose a variety of sanctions on Russia for the  election campaign hacking, and for other Russian international aggressions in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. Would Tillerson advise the president to sign it?

Tillerson declined to say, noting he would need to know all the facts.

Rubio grew frustrated. He pressed if Tillerson would support sanctions against any country involved in cyber attacks on the United States.

Again, Tillerson said he would need more information, and that the full circumstances would have to be considered.

When Tillerson mentioned trade considerations, Rubio responded, “What’s troubling about your answer is the implication that if there is a country that we’re trying to improve relations with or have significant economic ties with, you may advise the president not to impose sanctions on that country or individuals in that country, out of concern that it may damage our relations with them, on a cyber attack, which is a direct attack on our electoral process.”

Rubio asked Tillerson if he would advise Trump to appeal Obama’s executive orders to sanction Russia over the cyber attacks. Tillerson said he would have to look at it and consult with others in the administration. Ultimately, Rubio got him to say he would not automatically support such sanctions against Russia.

Then came the show-stopper.

“Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Rubio asked.

“I would not use that term,” was Tillerson’s first response.

Rubio then went on a roll, describing reports of the Russian military targeting civilians in Syria, killing thousands, and in Chechnya, killing hundreds of thousands. Tillerson said he would want to have more information. Agitated, Rubio, interrupted him saying, “Mr. Tillerson, what has happened in Aleppo is in the public domain. The videos and the pictures are there.” But Tillerson persisted, saying he would want full classified briefings before advising the president.

“There is so much out there, it should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes,” Rubio responded. “I find it discouraging, your inability to cite that.”

Finally, Rubio asked Tillerson about political prisoners in Russia, and the deaths and disappearances of political dissidents. “Do you believe that Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents?”

Again, Tillerson demurred.

“I look forward, if confirmed, to being fully informed. But I am not willing to make conclusions based only on information that is publicly available or publicly reported,” Tillerson said.

 

Marco Rubio, bipartisan group of Senators, throw down gauntlet on Russia

As new allegations arise charging details of Russian interference in the American presidential campaign, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio joined a bipartisan group of senators to unveil a bill calling for comprehensive sanctions on Russia for cyber intrusions, aggression, and destabilizing activities.

Rubio, a Republican, was joined by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, Arizona Republican John McCain, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, and Ohio Republican Rob Portman in announcing the “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017.”

The bill is far sweeping in its directives, including imposing specific sanctions on Russia, codifying executive orders issued by President Barack Obama, authorizing a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security to educate the public about cybersecurity, identifying Russian government-controlled media and the American companies that advertise with them, and developing campaigns to counter “fake news.”

The bill explicitly states that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated an influence campaign to affect the 2016 American elections; and also addresses Russian activities in attempting to influence elections in other countries; and Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, and its operations in Syria and elsewhere.

The move, introduced Tuesday evening, may become a Senate gauntlet throw-down to President-elect Donald Trump‘s reluctance to criticize Russia or express serious concerns about the election influence allegations. Rubio, McCain, Graham, the Democrats and many of the other senators signed on as co-sponsors already have spoken out forcefully about Russia’s activities. That criticism is reinforced by statements made by each of the co-sponsors in a news release they jointly issued, though none of them explicitly criticize Trump.

The bill had entered the Senate before new allegations emerged on CNN Tuesday evening and the internet site BuzzFeed.com published a dossier floating around Washington D.C. claiming that Russia not only gathered and leaked embarrassing and harmful intelligence on Democrat Hillary Clinton but also collected and is holding embarrassing and damaging intelligence on Trump.

“Vladimir Putin is not an ally of America, and he only understands strength, not weakness in the form of unilateral concessions. These two facts are important to remember as a new president takes office,” Rubio stated in the release. “I will continue working with our bipartisan coalition to pressure Putin and his corrupt regime until Russia changes its behavior.”

“Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s brazen attack on our democracy,” McCain stated.

“The facts are clear, and it’s time to act. America must stand united in sending a strong message to the Kremlin that this attack on the foundation our democracy will not go unpunished,” Shaheen stated.

 

NextGen Climate running ad in Florida against Rex Tillerson’s nomination

In anticipation of Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. Secretary of State on Wednesday, NextGen Climate is airing ads in Florida and five other states this week, telling viewers to contact their senators to oppose Tillerson when his nomination comes before the entire U.S. Senate.

Tillerson is the longtime CEO of ExxonMobil who was picked by President-elect Donald Trump to head the State Dept. last month, but his close affiliation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been a source of controversy with some senators.

The ad, “Protect America,” comes as Trump has been criticized for dismissing intelligence reports that found Russia conducted a campaign of cyber attacks to interfere with U.S. elections, and previously suggested that he would lift sanctions against Russia.

“Donald Trump has made his values clear — instead of working to support the American people, he’s nominating corporate and Wall Street insiders,” said NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer. “Rex Tillerson has shown he puts corporate interests over American interests. The Senate must protect the public by rejecting his nomination.”

Steyer is also blasting Tillerson on the environmental front, claiming that under his leadership, ExxonMobil had “one of the worst environmental records,” and is currently under investigation for lying about the dangers of climate change.

On Monday, over 75 people protested in Tampa in front of Senator Marco Rubio’s office, calling on him to oppose Tillerson when he votes on his nomination in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

NextGen Climate Action is a Super PAC focused on giving support to environmentally active candidates.

See the ad below:

 

 

Protesters in Tampa tell Marco Rubio to hold Rex Tillerson accountable during confirmation hearing

Rex Tillerson‘s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State begins Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., and dozens of activists in Tampa want to make sure that Marco Rubio holds Tillerson’s feet to the fire during that hearing.

At a rally in front of the Senator’s district office in Tampa’s Westshore area on Monday afternoon, approximately 75 people stood alongside Kennedy Boulevard denouncing Tillerson, with many critics mentioning his close ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government as a reason to oppose his nomination.

“Marco Rubio can stop this madness of Rex Tillerson’s appointment, and we’re out here to stand by him and say we agree with your concerns and thank you for looking out for us. You can be the one that stops this,” said Dayna Lazarus with Organize Now in Tampa.

Lazarus isn’t overhyping Rubio’s power in the confirmation process. With Republicans having just a one-seat majority on the 19-member Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio’s opposition — combined with ten Democrats on the panel — could keep the nomination from advancing out of committee, although his nomination would still ultimately come up before the entire U.S. Senate.

Rubio has already expressed some skepticism about Donald Trump’s nomination of Tillerson, who built a close relationship with Putin through his leadership as CEO of ExxonMobil. Putin awarded Tillerson with Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013, a special honor bestowed upon foreign citizens who contribute to Russia’s culture, economy or international relations.

Rubio’s initial reaction to the pick wasn’t positive.

Rubio later said that he had “serious concerns about Tillerson’s nomination.

Rubio “has a responsibility to the state of Florida” to thoroughly vet Tillerson, said Marina Welch, who is heading up the Tampa Bay area region’s trip to Washington for the Women’s March on D.C. the day after Trump’s inauguration on January 21.

“We are out here to show Senator Rubio that we support his skepticism about this Rex Tillerson appointment, ” said Kent Bailey, chair of the Tampa Bay area chapter of the Sierra Club. “We want him to feel supported in doing the right thing, the courageous thing in standing up to the expected appointment of a man who has no business being Secretary of State, a man who has been Putin’s partner in crime for decades.”

Referring to the report that in 2001 Tillerson became the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, Bailey said that was a very profitable relationship for both Tillerson and Putin. “Tillerson got a friendship award from Putin just months before Russian invaded the Crimea and went into Ukraine. Our country put sanctions on Russia, which Rex Tillerson publicly and loudy argued against.”

About halfway through the event, protestors began chanting, “Reject Rex! Reject Rex!” Later, group of five were allowed to enter Rubio’s office and tell his staffers their feelings about why they want him to reject Tillerson.

On NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday, Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham both said they still have questions about they can support Tillerson.

There were many in the crowd who are also suspicious of Tillerson when it comes to his stance on global warming. In a 2012 speech, Tillerson said about the issue (which he does believe is a problem) that,”We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”

“Who’s going to pay for this engineering problem?” asked Tampa activist Jim Shirk at the protest. “Is he foisting off the response to global warming on everybody else except the people causing it?”

Tillerson’s confirmation hearing begins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday in Washington.

 

Marco Rubio puts Russian in political oppression spotlight – and calls out Vladimir Putin

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio restarted his social media campaign to highlight political prisoners worldwide Monday, this time spotlighting a Russian imprisoned under President Vladimir Putin for “unauthorized assembly, and calling out Putin by name.

“#Russia must immediately and unconditionally release prisoner of conscience Ildar Dadin #expressionNOToppression,” Florida’s Republican senator tweeted Monday morning.

It’s a restart of an occasional serial of tweets and other social media posts that Rubio has been providing in late 2014 and the first few months of 2016 before his U.S. Senate campaign. Yet while it’s not the first time Rubio has highlighted a Russian, it comes with explicit denunciation of Putin – at a time when the Russian president’s relationship with president-elect Donald Trump and allegations of election campaign interference, together with reports of Putin’s own totalitarian approach to governing, are at the top of the news.

The tweet included a meme that declared, “Russian human rights activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to two years in prison for participating in an ‘unauthorized assembly’ – in other words, expressing his right to freedom of expression. He is the first person convicted in Russia under Vladimir Putin’s new law that bars any form of public dissent. Status: Reportedly held in a prison camp in Siberia.”

Rubio brought his campaign to the Senate floor last May with a speech that included, “Every day, people are unjustly detained, they’re tortured, publicly shamed, and murdered, often at the hands of their own government. And here’s what their crimes are: Simply disagreeing with the government… disagreeing whether through journalism, through blogging, through peaceful organizing, or for simply [believing] in a different religion.”

In the first few months of his campaign, which ran until last July, Rubio highlighted at least two dozen cases of politically-oppressed individuals in North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, China, Venezuela, Egypt, Kenya, Turkey, Bahrain, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Laos, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. He’s posted at least four on Russians, and called out Putin by name before, something he has rarely done with leaders of the other countries.

“With this effort, we will continue to shine a light on the courageous men and women who risk their lives every day fighting for basic human rights and democratic principles,” Rubio declared in a news release Monday. “While their oppressors may seek to silence them, #expressionNOToppression will serve as a voice for the voiceless.”

 

Marco Rubio mourns Orlando officers killed, calls for law enforcement respect ‘every day’

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, in the wake of the deaths of two law enforcement officials in Orlando on Monday, condemned the violence and mourned Orlando Police Department Master Sergeant Debra Clayton and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputy killed.

“Sergeant Clayton leaves behind a husband and two children, and her murderer must be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “During this heartbreaking time, we honor the memory of these officers and their dedication to public service, and will keep their families and colleagues in our prayers.”

He also spoke of the wider problem of police being killed.

“With so much violence directed at police officers in recent months, including deadly ambush-style attacks, it’s important to support the men and women who serve and protect their fellow citizens. Today happens to be Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, and as we honor the Thin Blue Line, let’s always remember that they put on the uniform every day with the realization that they may not come home.”

The selflessness and bravery of those who work in law enforcement, Rubio said, deserves recognition and support “not just today, but every day.”

Sen. Bill Nelson also issued a statement Monday afternoon, in which he offered somber condolences to law enforcement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the two Orlando-area police officers killed in the line of duty today,” he said. “The brave men and women who serve in our nation’s law enforcement community put their lives on the line every day to keep us all safe. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their service and we join them as they mourn the loss of their colleagues.”

‘Little’ Marco Rubio holds big cards in Rex Tillerson confirmation

We all remember when presidential candidate Donald Trump stuck Republican opponent Marco Rubio with the label of “Little Marco.”

It’s hard to say if that insult led directly to Trump’s sizable thumping of Rubio in the Florida primary, but it’s worth mentioning because “Little” Marco holds perhaps the biggest card in Trump’s push to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

Rubio sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Tillerson is expected to appear Wednesday as part of the formal confirmation process. It’s a 21-person committee, with Republicans holding a one-seat majority.

It’s shaping up as a showdown between principle and politics, and the spotlight is on Rubio.

All 10 Democrats are likely to vote against Tillerson, given the ExxonMobil CEO’s close business ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That relationship has been a problem for Rubio as well, a fact underscored when Florida’s junior senator tweeted last month: “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a Secretary of State.”

When Trump tabbed Tillerson to what arguably is the most important non-elected position in his cabinet, Rubio responded with a statement that read in part, “I have serious concerns about his nomination. The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals.”

For good measure, Rubio also has called Putin a “gangster and a thug.”

If Rubio breaks ranks with fellow Republicans, that would likely mean the committee would reject Tillerson’s nomination by an 11-10 vote. It still would be subject to a full Senate vote, but the impact of a thumbs-down in a GOP-controlled committee could be enough to hand Trump a stinging political defeat.

While Rubio has promised to give the nominee a thorough and fair hearing in the committee, you have to wonder what Tillerson could say that would sway his opinion. Rubio certainly has been feeling the heat in advance of the hearing, including a call from former Vice President Dick Cheney urging him to cast a “yea” vote.

A “no” vote likely would make him a pariah with a new president who has been known to hold a grudge.

Voting to confirm, in view of his past statements on Tillerson, could bring an avalanche of condemnation from critics who would label him as Trump’s puppet – and, by extension, Putin. That could make it difficult to take seriously anything Rubio says going forward.

This is shaping up as the most significant moment in Rubio’s political career. How he handles himself in this hearing could cast his image for years to come.

 

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