OPINION - President Donald Trump and the Republicans would be having a much worse month if not for the leadership of conservative Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
June began with immense intrigue surrounding the highly anticipated public testimony of recently-fired FBI Director, James Comey, on June 8. Senator Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had been asking the same question of all intelligence officials: “has President Trump or anyone working on his behalf attempted to impede the investigation in any way?” One by one, they have all answered, “no.” “Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” acting director Andrew McCabe told the Senator on May 11. For the Comey hearing, and the cameras, Rubio tried a slightly different approach.
Relying on Comey’s public statement released the day before, Rubio sought to drill down on each of the president’s requests:
“Going back, the three requests were, number one, be loyal, number two, let the Mike Flynn thing go, he's a good guy, treated unfairly, and number three, can you please tell the American people what these leaders in congress already know, what you already know, you told me three times, that I'm not under personally under investigation.”
Comey answered, “Those are the three things he asked, yes, sir.”
Sen. Rubio followed up with an observation: “This investigation is full of leaks, left and right. We learned more from the newspapers sometimes than we do from our open hearings.” He continued, “ever wonder why, of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that has never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation?”
President Trump must have hollered in approval when he heard that. The RNC immediately packaged up a clip of Rubio’s question and sent it to reporters. Twitter erupted. It was exactly the message Republicans had been looking for, a shot at the media for curating leaks and, from his allies’ perspective, it exonerated the president at the same time. It was memed and shared widely among Republicans of all backgrounds. As he often does, Rubio found the perfect message for the moment. The moment was fleeting, however, as President Trump is reportedly facing an inquiry into a potential attempt to obstruct justice. But Rubio helped on that front as well, pressing Comey to reiterate that the president told him he wanted to see the investigation continue, that it would be best to uncover if any of the president’s “satellites” had done something wrong.
Meanwhile, one of Senator Rubio’s passion projects, modernizing the antiquated and unaccountable Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), caught some momentum on Capitol Hill. “Veterans Affairs exists to serve the veterans, not veterans to serve the system!” Sen. Rubio vented in an hour-long town hall event with the Chairman of Concerned Veterans of America, Pete Hegseth. While campaigning for president, Rubio routinely assailed the failures of VA clinics and hospitals across the country. He took it personally, describing his own brother’s struggles with the department and highlighting unacceptable conditions in Florida’s VA centers. Rubio has passed dozens of bills to fix the VA, but has routinely met fierce opposition from defenders of the status quo, namely Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Somehow, Rubio finally found the sweet spot: a modest reform to protect whistleblowers and empower the Secretary of the VA to dismiss unsatisfactory employees. The measure sailed through the Senate, passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 368-55, and was signed into law on June 23.
During the week of June 12, Rubio scored two more victories for causes he holds dear.
First, he helped champion an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill to sanction Russia and Iran for repeated aggressive actions including Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. While President Trump has cast doubt on Russia’s responsibility, the Senate voted 97-2 to sanction the federation and crafted the measure so that the president cannot unilaterally lift the far-reaching sanctions. Rubio also successfully lobbied the administration to further sanction the Maduro regime and its allies in Venezuela as violent repression continues there.
Second, Rubio led a behind-the-scenes effort to uproot what he called President Obama’s “capitulation” to Cuba’s Castro regime. In a fascinating Politico article, the West Miami native takes credit for convincing President Trump to shield any proposed changes to U.S.-Cuba relations from “hostile” bureaucrats and business interests. Along with Cuban-American Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, and the indomitable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Republicans and all South Floridians, Rubio carefully crafted a policy that would punish the repressive Castro regime and essentially sanction its military-run enterprises. Rubio, who wears Cuban elites’ disdain as a badge of honor, spoke before the president in announcing the changes promising, “America is prepared to outstretch its hand and work with the people of Cuba but we will not, we will not empower their oppressors!” With a hopeful flourish, he declared, “freedom and liberty will return to the enslaved island of Cuba.” And he took the opportunity to personally thank President Trump for doggedly insisting on “doing what needed to be done” and rolling back the Obama-era policy.
For the rival candidate once derided as “Lil’ Marco,” it is as if the second-term Senator is single-handedly rescuing a successful reform agenda from the mandibles of a media environment obsessed with the president and his scandals. Whatever may come of the Trump presidency, when they found themselves in trouble this month, Marco Rubio helped salvage notable policy victories. Republicans should keep that in mind in the future.
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU
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