Rubio’s Revenge: Puts Tillerson in Hot Seat

Former Trump foe grills State Dept. pick, teases potentially pivotal 'no' vote

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) drew raised eyebrows this week with his intense, at times hostile, approach to grilling President-Eelect Trump’s choice for secretary of state.

Support from Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will be crucial for Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be confirmed. Tillerson can only afford to lose two Republican votes if Democrats vote in lockstep against his nomination.

“They want to undermine Trump so that they’re the wing of the party, controlled by multinational corporate interests, that can take the party back from Trump.”

Both Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have indicated they might oppose Tillerson.

Rubio made his importance in the approval clear on Wednesday with his aggressive questioning.

What is Rubio up to? Is he trying to sink a Cabinet nominee in committee, or on the Senate floor? A Cabinet-level nominee has not failed to get the votes needed for confirmation on the floor of the Senate since 1989, according to Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak.

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Revenge Served in the Hot Seat
When running for re-election to the Senate later in 2016, Rubio repeatedly promised to be a “check” on the eventual presidential winner — be that Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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In light of his repeated pledge to “check” Trump, Rubio may be wary of drawing criticism from left-leaning home state newspapers for appearing soft on Trump’s nominees for the Cabinet.

But some believe Rubio’s motivation is more straightforward — it is about revenge.

“It’s Rubio’s turn to make Trump sweat,” wrote Russell Berman of The Atlantic Friday. “Just re-elected to a second six-year term in the Senate, the 45-year-old holds the key vote on Trump’s nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. And he knows it.”

Trump belittled Rubio — quite literally — by calling him “Little Marco” throughout early 2016. Trump also made fun of Rubio for being thirsty during a response to the 2013 State of the Union, and being a “sweaty” guy.

The two had their showdown in the Florida Republican primary in mid-March, where Trump beat Rubio by more than 400,000 votes. And in a sign of things to come, Trump topped 1 million votes in a four-way race, a sign of strong popularity in the nation’s third most populous state.

Rubio could vote to refuse to send Tillerson’s name for a vote on the Senate floor. There are 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the committee, so if Rubio defects, Tillerson would be sunk or delayed.

Right now, it looks ambiguous.

When grilling Tillerson on Wednesday, Rubio almost demanded Tillerson call Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” He asked again when pointing to the Russian military’s conduct in Aleppo, Syria.

Rubio also asked Tillerson to denounce the president of the Philippines for Duterte’s fondness for summary executions of drug dealers and kidnappers.

Tillerson ducked the question. He often told Rubio he had to take a better look at the facts.

It was an odd tack during the nine-hour hearing for Rubio. Tillerson is in the running to be nation’s chief diplomat. It was odd to see a senator of the same party demand Tillerson poison relationships with Russia and the Philippines before the new administration took office.

Raising the Banner of a Rejected Foreign Policy
Some of Rubio’s critics believe his antics were less about revenge and more about pushing a foreign-policy agenda that left office with President George W. Bush.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said the questioning was designed to preclude a Trump administration from making serious deals with Russia. Speaking on “The Laura Ingraham Show” Friday morning, Buchanan said Rubio was trying to “abort the Trump policy” on Russia.

Buchanan accused Rubio of eyeing another presidential run, as early as 2020, as the champion of hawkish neoconseratives.

“He’s decided, I think, to take the John McCain approach, the ultra-hawk approach,” said Buchanan. “And be that candidate in 2020 … I’m not sure he’s helping himself all that much.”

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Eddie Zipperer, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College, said Rubio is scheming to take the GOP away from Trump.

“The neoconservatives, the globalists like Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Rubio are walking a tightrope,” said Zipperer. “They want to undermine Trump so that they’re the wing of the party, controlled by multinational corporate interests, that can take the party back from Trump … Since the beginning of the nation, the task of attacking a president covertly is always done by attacking him indirectly through Cabinet members.”

Rubio wants to pull the party away from Trump toward the globalists without taking Trump on directly.

But not every Trump supporter thinks Rubio erred — mostly because Russia has been too aggressive in Europe and Syria.

“Rubio is a hawk on Putin, justifiably concerned that Trump will pursue some type of Nixon-Kissinger version of détente that underestimates the danger morally and geopolitically,” said Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. “Like Scoop Jackson, Rubio envisages himself as the guardian of a venerable tradition that we will need to heed or return to sooner or later, or invite peril.”


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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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