January 27, 2017

Rubio seeks new path in Trump’s Washington

Rubio tillerson

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- The news photographers rushed to the front of the room, jutting their lenses at Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chuckled at the spectacle, which Rubio built up over weeks, ensuring a return to the national spotlight.

On President Donald Trump’s first full weekday in office, Rubio faced a consequential decision: Maintain an election promise to stand up to Trump or set aside objections to Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, and spare Trump a measure of dissent from fellow Republicans.

“It was a close call,” Rubio said after the vote Monday, engulfed by reporters. A woman in a Greenpeace shirt joined the herd, mockingly holding up a model of a human spine.

Rubio’s vote in favor of Tillerson, despite concern about the former Exxon Mobil CEO’s coziness with Russia, illustrates a reality and a calculation. This is Trump’s Washington, and Rubio, who as a presidential candidate accused Trump of being a con man, is choosing a safer route.

The 45-year-old starts his second term with an opportunity to address longtime criticism that he is more flash than substance, a charismatic speaker who spent a great deal of his first six-year term angling for the presidency, as he likely would have done had Hillary Clinton prevailed.

More here.

Photo credit: Matt McClain, The Washington Post

January 23, 2017

Rubio's a yes on Tillerson, despite grilling him on Russia

  Trump Secretary of State Rubio

@PatriciaMazzei

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will back Rex Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state Monday, despite “reservations” exposed in the Florida Republican’s pointed, high-profile questioning of the Cabinet nominee two weeks ago.

“Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy,” Rubio wrote on Facebook. “Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.”

 

Rubio made the announcement ahead of Monday afternoon’s vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ensuring that Tillerson will clear the committee without the political blemish of having a Republican oppose him. Tillerson’s two other potential detractors on the committee, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both said Sunday they’d support him.

Rubio used the public Tillerson hearing last Monday to try to corner the former Exxon Mobil chief executive on Russia. Tillerson refused to label Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal.” (“I would not use that term,” Tillerson said.)

Their feisty exchange, which also touched on human-rights issues in countries like Cuba and China, was nationally televised and gave Rubio, a master of seizing the public-relations moment, the biggest Washington press coverage he’s had in months. He was reportedly courted by top Trump administration honchos and GOP donors afterward, and spent a week telling reporters he was reviewing Tillerson’s answers to questions Rubio posed in writing before making up his mind.

By Trump’s inauguration Friday, few Washington politicians expected Rubio to break with the new president, given Rubio would receive little political upside, other than to rally support from other Republican national-security hawks worried about Putin’s influence.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Helber, Associated Press

Decision day for Rubio on Tillerson

via @learyreports

It’s decision day for Sen. Marco Rubio.

After high-profile showdown with Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rubio will have vote for or against him when the Foreign Relations Committee meets this afternoon.

As of Sunday night, Rubio had not said how he will vote. Sunday morning, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who share Rubio’s hawkish outlook, announced they would support Tillerson, who is expected to get confirmed.

How Rubio votes, however, could determine how easy that path is.

A committee vote against Tillerson would invite a backlash among Trump supporters, if not the president himself, but it could also solidify Rubio’s backing from Republicans who remain skeptical of Trump and his administration’s ties to Russia.

Rubio aggressively questioned Tillerson during hearings at one point asking, "Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?"

Tillerson replied, "I would not use that term."

Tillerson no doubt has worked behind the scenes to allay Rubio’s concerns, as he did with McCain and Graham.

“Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests," they said in a statement. "The views that Mr. Tillerson has expressed, both privately and publicly during the confirmation process, give us confidence that he will be a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 16, 2017

Rubio: Cuban immigration policy 'was going to be changed one way or another'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Monday that he won't try to bring back the special immigration status for Cubans that President Barack Obama eliminated last week in a surprise move.

"Wet foot/dry foot -- and the Cuban Adjustment Act in general -- was in danger," Rubio told reporters in Miami. Obama's reestablishing of diplomatic relations with Cuba undermined "the very essence and the purpose of the law, its justification."

"There's been well-documented abuses of the program," added the Florida Republican, who had filed legislation to tighten federal benefits for recent Cuban arrivals. "In my view, the Cuban Adjustment Act was going to be changed one way or another."

He even predicted there would be enough votes in Congress to repeal the law altogether.

The Cuban Adjustment Act still stands, but Obama's actions Thursday effectively gutted it, making it much more difficult for Cubans to remain legally in the U.S. and qualify under the act's protections.

While he won't ask President-elect Donald Trump to bring back the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Rubio reiterated he'll push to reinstate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that gave refuse to Cuban medical professionals forced to work abroad who defected to the U.S. In a statement Thursday, Rubio said he spoke to Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the issue.

Now that Cubans who arrive undocumented in the U.S. must request political asylum to try to remain in the country, Rubio said he hoped their asylum claims would be given a full hearing.

"I don't want to see stories about people who came that way," with legitimate claims of oppression, he added, "and were sent back to Cuba."

Rubio still mulling vote on Tillerson confirmation

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday he has yet to decide whether to vote to confirm former Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson as President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

The Florida Republican said he’s awaiting responses to written questions to Tillerson following last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We’re going to go through the transcripts of the hearing, which I’ve begun to do,” Rubio told reporters in Miami. “We need to have a foreign policy that while always acting in the national interest of the United States is always rooted in our values as a nation.”

Rubio was the toughest Republican to question Tillerson on Trump’s foreign policy, which is unspecific and often at odds with Rubio’s hawkish views.

Over the weekend, Trump told the German newspaper Bild that NATO is “obsolete," though he added that the alliance is still "very important to him."

“NATO is not obsolete,” Rubio said Monday. “It most certainly needs to be reinvigorated, given the new challenges of the 21st century.”

“Mr. Tillerson said, by the way, that he does believe in NATO’s importance,” Rubio added.

The senator was scheduled to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast for the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring and scholarship program for African-American boys. The morning’s keynote speaker will be U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who got into a feud with Trump after questioning the legitimacy of his election Friday and saying he won’t attend Trump’s inauguration. On Saturday, Trump blasted Lewis, a civil rights icon, on Twitter, prompted immediate public backlash.

“I have tremendous admiration for Congressman Lewis, not only for what he’s done but what he stands for,” Rubio said. “I don’t agree with him that President-elect Trump is illegitimate. I also don’t agree with his decision not to attend the inaugural, though it certainly is his right. It’s not about President-elect Trump – it’s a peaceful transfer of power.”

Regarding Trump’s Twitter response, however, Rubio added: “I also would have hoped that the president-elect would have responded differently.”

January 13, 2017

Rubio backs Mattis to lead defense department

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday announced his support for James Mattis as defense secretary.

“Just as he has done throughout his decorated 44-year military career, General James Mattis will serve our nation honorably and effectively as our next secretary of defense. General Mattis will bring an unparalleled level of real-world experience, a pragmatic and clear-eyed view of the world and America’s unique role in it, and a principled commitment to America’s values,' Rubio said in a statement.

"The United States and our allies live in a dangerous world, with enemies and adversaries that fundamentally hate our values and way of life and are intent on destroying us. As General Mattis clearly and unequivocally articulated in his confirmation hearing this week, the United States is ‘under the biggest attack since World War II,’ and ‘that's from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.’ He understands these prime threats, and the many others he will encounter as defense secretary, including the need to rebuild our nation’s military after years of devastating defense cuts. General Mattis has answered the call to serve our nation well, and I believe he will improve the state of readiness in our military to defend this great democracy. For these reasons, I support his nomination.”

The statement does not address one area of apparent disagreement. While Rubio has called for scrapping Iran nuclear deal, Mattis testified that, while "imperfect," it should be honored because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

FEC deadlocks in case over 'dark money' group that supported Rubio for president

via @learyreports

A “dark money” group that backed Marco Rubio’s presidential run, drawing allegations it violated law, will not face further FEC scrutiny after the commission deadlocked on a vote.

Two FEC commissioners in the 3-3 vote faulted the decision. “By failing to further investigate CSP, the Commission has again done nothing to address dark money. However, it has tacitly permitted the proliferation of groups that exist for political purposes yet are not transparent, as the law requires,” reads a statement of reasons from Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub that was published Thursday.

Conservative Solutions Project raised millions of dollars from unidentified donors — $13.5 million from one person alone — and ran advertising promoting Rubio in early primary states. That led to complaints from watchdog groups that it was set up exclusively for Rubio, violating tax regulations that “social welfare groups” must promote “the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole.”

The pro-Rubio group broke ground in elections, just as Jeb Bush did by raising tens of millions for his Right to Rise super PAC before becoming an official presidential candidates.

There were ample ties between Rubio’s campaign team and Conservative Solutions Project, as well as a super PAC that boosted the candidate. CSP ran a number of ads that featured Rubio. One also showed Sen. Mike Lee but Rubio was the clear focus.

“No reasonable person could conclude that the ads were intended as anything other than advocacy on behalf of Rubio’s election,” the FEC commissioners wrote.

Robert Maguire, director of dark money data for Open Secrets, noted on Twitter today that “CSP was so active, so early, that by late 2015, 75% of pro-Rubio ads were run by the c4, NOT BY RUBIO'S CAMPAIGN.”

But the FEC will not continue a probe after the panel deadlocked, as is commonly the case. The decision was made last month but just now became public.

We have asked Conservative Solutions Project for comment.

Last year, Rubio said the identity of the $13.5 million donor was “irrelevant.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 12, 2017

Marco Rubio says Obamacare 'absolute failure'

@learyreports 

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans early Thursday voted on a budget outline designed to repeal Obamacare and Florida’s Marco Rubio later celebrated the demise.

“ObamaCare has led to rising premiums, a collapse of the individual insurance market and fewer choices for patients,” Rubio said in a statement.

“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.”

Sen. Bill Nelson joined Democrats in voting against the arcane budget measure, designed to be filibuster proof.

The bigger challenge, of course, is coming up with a replacement plan. President-elect Donald Trump said during his news conference yesterday he would soon present a proposal.

On Twitter this afternoon, Trump said: "Congrats to the Senate for taking the first step to #RepealObamacare- now it's onto the House!"

January 11, 2017

Tillerson says he'd urge Trump to keep Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio got Rex Tillerson to make news Wednesday afternoon about Cuba.

In Rubio's second round of questioning President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, he asked Tillerson of he'd urge Trump to veto any potential legislation calling for doing away with the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo. Yes, Tillerson said.

He also said he'd oppose allowing unfettered travel by Americans to the island, though Tillerson added that any changes to President Barack Obama's Cuba reengagement policy would come only after a top-to-bottom Trump administration review.

More here.

Rubio goes for it in Tillerson hearing: 'Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio made clear before Wednesday's confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson that he had concerns about the secretary of state nominee's position on Russia.

In his first chance to publicly question Tillerson, Rubio did not hold back. 

First, Rubio tried to get Tillerson -- who called Russia a "danger" -- to agree to back sanctions on any Russian cyber attackers, something Rubio has proposed that Tillerson said he's not ready to do.

Then, Rubio escalated his questioning.

"Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?" the Florida Republican asked the Exxon Mobil chief executive.

"I would not use that term," Tillerson responded.

Rubio cited Russian targeting of civilians in Aleppo, Syria, and bombings in Chechnya. Tillerson said he'd need more information to assign direct blame to the Russian president. Rubio cut him off.

"Mr. Tillerson, what's happened in Aleppo is in the public domain," he said. "There is so much information out there about what's happened in Aleppo.... It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin's military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo."

He called Tillerson's "inability" to call Russia's actions in Syria a war crime "discouraging."

Rubio then mentioned the Russian political dissidents and journalists who have died "under suspicious circumstances."

"Do you believe that Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissident journalists and political opponents?" he asked.

Tillerson: "I do not have sufficient information to make that claim." To advise future President Donald Trump, he added, it's important "that I deal with facts."

"None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson," Rubio shot back. "These people are dead."

Said Tillerson: "I'm not disputing these people are dead."