When he was campaigning for president in 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio took flak for skipping votes and missing committee meetings. He groused about the slow pace of Congress and planned on a return to private life.
But after reversing course and being re-elected last year, the Florida Republican found Washington more to his liking in 2017. That was thanks in no small measure to a newfound partnership with a president he was able to influence on key foreign policy matters such as Cuba and Venezuela, and a GOP Congress which helped him achieve victories on childhood cancer and veterans’ reforms.
Then, last week, he scored perhaps his most high-profile triumph: a Republican tax bill that expands the child tax credit he’s been pushing for the past three years.
As he sat in his Capitol Hill office last week with reporters, Rubio reflected on a “rewarding” year triggered by his decision to break his pledge not to seek a second term.
“For someone who a year and a half ago wasn’t sure he was going to run for re-election, I’m glad I did,” he said. “We’ve probably gotten more done in the past 10, 11 months than we did or could have in the first six years.”
Partnering with Trump
Rubio attributes the success to three factors: having more experience and influence as a senator, being a member of the party in power and, perhaps most importantly, forging a somewhat surprising alliance with President Trump.
Both traded insults on the campaign trail last year. Rubio called Trump a “con artist” who couldn’t be trusted with the nuclear button. Trump dubbed Rubio as “Little Marco” and accused him of having a sweating problem. But the two have put aside differences to develop a pragmatic relationship.
They’ve already found common ground on foreign policy issues involving Cuba, China and Venezuela where Rubio’s emphasis on human rights intersected with Trump’s desire to make a splashy reversal of Obama initiatives.
Foremost among those was Cuba, from which Rubio’s parents emigrated. The senator worked closely with the White House to roll back some of the economic and travel freedoms the previous administration had approved with Havana.
When he announced his revamped policy toward the Castro regime in June, Trump expressed his “deep gratitude” to Rubio, calling him “a man who has really become a friend of mine.”
Rubio found common ground with the administration on other issues, including expanded accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and, closer to home, a much longer red snapper season for recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.
Rubio said it’s no surprise the two have been able to set aside differences now that the campaign has long been over.
“I’ve said less than stellar things about Democrats too and yet once the election’s over we have to govern,” he said. “By and large, it’s been a good working relationship (with Trump). I don’t agree with him on everything. But that would be true no matter who had won this election.”
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a friend of Rubio who co-chaired his presidential campaign in Florida, said the senator has long gotten over the nastiness of 2016.
“I don’t think Marco loses any sleep over being called ‘Little Marco’ at all,” he said. “Everything that was in the campaign is water under the bridge. Marco has done everything that he can to try to assist this administration in moving their agenda forward.”
Differences with the president
Unlike other Republican senators such as Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona who have gone after Trump publicly, Rubio has not attacked the president in personal terms.
That doesn’t mean they don’t disagree.
Rubio has been very critical of what he considers the administration’s sluggish response to helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria and its decision not to lend a direct hand to Florida citrus farmers whose groves were ravaged by Hurricane Irma.
He also opposes Trump’s pick for NASA administrator, Oklahoma GOP Congressman James Bridenstine who made disparaging remarks about Rubio on immigration and national security when Bridenstine campaigned for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential race.
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