Sen. Marco Rubio sailed into office on the tea-party wave, wagging his finger at the Obama administration’s fiscal mischief. But in the Senate, foreign policy has become his passion.
Rubio, in an interview with National Review Online, says that the late senator Jesse Helms, the firebrand conservative from North Carolina, is his model.
“Politicians are not heroes,” Rubio says. “But if you look at Jesse Helms, he had a tremendous amount of influence in this place.”
Rubio respects how Helms fought hard as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, punching back at the princes of liberalism. Over five terms, he notes, Helms became a leading hawk.
Rubio is already becoming one. But you would not know it from his cramped transitional office in the bowels of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The walls are blank, the low-slung coffee table sparse. One lonely picture is perched near a ratty sofa: an autographed photo of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, slipped into a cheap frame.
Rubio smiles when I remark on the jail-cell styling. He often calls Washington “weird,” full of cluttered customs. The Newt photo, he shrugs, is nothing more than a memento from his days as speaker of the Florida state legislature.
Since coming to Washington, Rubio has dismissed the notion that he is an instant messiah, the Republican Obama. Yet the tag has been hard to escape. As the GOP’s lone Hispanic senator, the son of Cuban exiles, and with good looks, his name is repeatedly dropped in conversations about 2012. Some Beltway insiders pine for the bilingual attorney to jump into the race; others peg him as a likely vice-presidential nominee.
Rubio swats away the chatter. For the record, he is not running for president, nor interested in the number-two slot. But he is looking forward to helping Republicans beat President Obama at the polls.
Rubio has vocally opposed an increase to the federal government’s debt limit and chastised the president for not being “serious” about deficit reduction. He has also thrown cold water on Republicans. Before the Senate adjourned for spring recess, Rubio bucked leadership and opposed the Boehner–White House deal to keep the government running, since he found the attached spending cuts insufficient.
But foreign policy is Rubio’s calling. He relishes his spot on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he has been tapped to be a ranking subcommittee member. His portfolio focuses on the Western Hemisphere, building relationships with neighbors on trade and terrorism. His work from that post is piled about the room.
“There is no replacement for America in the world,” Rubio says. “If America withdraws from the world stage, it will create a vacuum, and that vacuum will not be filled by someone better than us.”