Marco Rubio is a formidable political talent who possesses many of the skills and traits that voters are likely to be looking for. He appears to be a principled conservative in the areas of free markets, national security, and American values, and conservatives looking for a standard-bearer in 2016 are likely to find much in his background to like along with a few items that may trouble them.
Rubio is a first-term U.S. Senator from Florida who previously served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. After term limits ended is eight-year tenure in the Florida House, he successfully challenged the then-Republican sitting Governor, Charlie Crist, for the 2010 GOP nomination to run for U.S. Senate.
Rubio has been a reliable ally of conservative causes, earning him a 98.67 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. He has supported lower taxes throughout his career as well as a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. He has supported free trade and deregulation, and market-oriented reforms to health care. He opposes cap-and-trade or other efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. On social issues Rubio is pro-life, supports states’ ability to define and protect traditional marriage, and is a staunch defender of gun rights.
Rubio is generally in the conservative mainstream when it comes to national security issues, saying use of military force should be an option regarding Syria and Iran, although he did oppose President Obama’s proposed air strikes on Syria in 2013 citing the lack of a clear goal. He has also opposed cuts to the defense budget. He supported renewing the expanded wiretap provisions of the Patriot Act. Rubio sits on the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence, which is likely to help give him important experience and credibility as a potential Commander-in-Chief.
Rubio’s history on immigration will likely trouble many Republican voters in a nomination fight. As a candidate he argued for controlling the border and deportation for illegal immigrants. But Rubio was part of the ‘Gang of Eight’ that proposed an immigration plan that allowed a pathway to citizenship for many currently in the U.S. illegally. He has since announced his opposition to that plan, and passing several bills that address smaller aspects of the immigration issue, rather than one comprehensive bill.
He is the son of Cuban immigrants, and his heritage is considered by many political analysts to be a plus in reaching out to Hispanic voters, something the Republican Party has struggled with in recent years. Rubio is generally regarded as a skilled communicator, and his selection as Speaker of the Florida House suggest good political and coalition-building skills. His win over Governor Charlie Crist in the 2010 GOP nomination fight, where he started 53 points down and ultimately forced Crist to exit the fight and run as an independent, shows he is able to win tough campaigns.
Rubio is often mentioned as a likely candidate in 2016, and if he enters the race should be considered a serious contender for the nomination.
Marco Rubio was born May 28, 1971 in Miami, Florida. He is the third child of Mario Rubio and Oria Garcia, both of whom immigrated to the United States in 1956 and were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 1975.
Rubio grew up in the Miami area, with a stint in Nevada between 1979 and 1985. He graduated from high school in 1989, then attended Tarkio College on a football scholarship from 1989 to 1990. After one year he enrolled at Santa Fe Community College, and later transferred to the University of Florida and earned a degree in political science in 1993. He then attended the University of Miami School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1996. As a law student he interned for U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and the first Cuban-American elected to Congress.
His first run for public office was in 1998, a successful campaign for City Commissioner in West Miami. He then ran in a special election for a vacant Florida House seat in 2000, winning a competitive primary and fairly easy general election. He rapidly advanced in leadership, becoming majority whip, then majority leader, then in November 2006 being elected Speaker of the Florida House.
Term limits pushed Rubio out of the Speaker’s office, and he left office in January 2009. Rubio started his own law firm and also landed a teaching position at Florida International University as well as a spot as a political commentator at Univision. That year he declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2010 election cycle, and overcame a 53-point deficit to take control of the nomination battle so convincingly that incumbent Florida Governor, Charlie Crist, dropped out of the nomination fight and ran instead as an independent. Rubio defeated Governor Crist as well as Democrat Kendrick Meek, receiving nearly 49 percent of the vote.
Senator Rubio has been married to Jeanette Dousdebes since 1998. She is a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and bank teller of Colombian descent. They have four children. He and his family live in West Miami, Florida. The Rubio family attends a Southern Baptist church as well as Catholic services.
With a single glaring exception, Senator Rubio has generally been consistent on issues and worked hard to fulfill his campaign promises. There is little to suggest that his personal and professional ethics are lacking, or that there have been significant moral lapses in his past. His history demonstrates a long-term commitment to the conservative principles he espouses and that guide him.
An early example of Rubio’s efforts to keep campaign promises was a book he created as Speaker of the Florida House, 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida's Future, that outlined a legislative agenda he pledged to push for. The promises included a better web site for the state’s budget, bringing Hollywood productions to Florida, and reducing taxes and property insurance premiums.
According to Rubio, all 100 measures were passed by the Florida House, with 57 of them passing the Senate and being enacted into law. Although that claim requires some generous accounting of what passed and in what form, it’s clear that Rubio did all that might be expected to get legislation passed reflecting the agenda outlined in 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida's Future.
As a U.S. Senator, Rubio has consistently upheld his pledges to oppose tax increases, support pro-life policies, oppose climate change regulations, and otherwise voted largely in line with the conservative, limited-government perspective he shared as a candidate – except on immigration.
As a candidate, Rubio announced that he opposed ‘amnesty’ which he said included anything that allowed those in the U.S. illegally to remain and have the opportunity to become citizens. As a Senator however Rubio helped to craft the so-called ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration reform package that allows current illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. and gain legal status, and eventually have an opportunity to become citizens. Following intense opposition to the bill from conservatives and others, Rubio announced he no longer supported the ‘Gang of Eight’ bill and favored passing several pieces of more modest legislation that each addresses fewer immigration issues. He has been widely criticized for his flip-flops on this issue, and it’s unknown whether this history might prove fatal to a potential Rubio presidential campaign.
Some have suggested he embellished his parents’ story of emigrating from Cuba to the U.S. as political refugees, given that they arrived in the U.S. before Castro took power. Rubio has explained the discrepancy as based on is recollections as a child of his parents’ explanation of how they came to the U.S., and has since corrected the record.
In Rubio’s personal life, there is little hint of scandal, unethical behavior, or other indicators suggesting significant moral lapses.
Rubio is widely regarded as an effective communicator, one of the reasons he was selected introduce Mitt Romney at the 2012 Republican National Convention and to give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2013. His introduction of Romney was termed “captivating” by the Washington Post, and his State of the Union speech was generally well regarded although he was criticized for taking a drink of water halfway through.
He also possesses considerable political skills, as his come-from-behind win in the 2010 nomination fight with sitting governor Charlie Crist demonstrated. He performed well in debates, and showed a good grasp of the facts regarding policies and issues.
Rubio was selected by his fellow Republicans in the Florida State House to serve as party whip, majority leader, and then Speaker of the House, which also demonstrates significant political savvy and the ability to work with and gain the respect of his colleagues.
During the two years before being elected Speaker of the House, Rubio travelled Florida holding what he called “idea raisers,” where he solicited citizens’ input on policies and legislation that would improve the state. Many of the ideas from the events became the basis for his 100 Ideas book, and his statewide tour was hailed as “a work of genius” by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
As a first-term Senator Rubio’s opportunities to take significant leadership roles are limited. His committee assignments include Commerce and Foreign Relations, generally considered to be among the higher-prestige committees, suggesting he enjoys the confidence of his colleagues in terms of his knowledge and seriousness.
Rubio’s most significant coalition-building accomplishment to date was the introduction and passage in the U.S. Senate of the ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration reform bill. While widely criticized by many conservatives, his work on immigration does show a willingness and ability to work with political opposites to achieve consensus. Rubio has also worked with Democratic Senator Coons of Delaware to extend many business tax breaks and expand legal immigration for high-skill workers, measures that generally enjoy broad support in both parties.
Rubio has regularly promoted conservative ideas. His proposal to eliminate property taxes in Florida in exchange for a hike in the sales tax gained him national attention, and while perhaps neither conservative or liberal it does suggest a willingness to think outside the box and promote bold reforms.
In January 2014 Rubio proposed eliminating the Earned income Tax Credit (EITC) and replacing it with a low-wage subsidy. The EITC has been widely criticized by many conservatives for its high degree of fraud and abuse. He also co-authored an op-ed with Senator Mike Lee of Utah advocating for fundamental reform of the personal tax code, arguing for a simpler system with two rates of 15% and 35% with the elimination of many deductions and credits.
Senator Rubio has also not hesitated to challenge liberal positions and officeholders. In February 2014, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin returned from a trip to Cuba and extolled the virtues of the communist country’s health care system. Rubio promptly launched a blistering rebuttal of Senator Harkin’s comments, describing the numerous repressive policies Cuba has toward dissidents as well as the Castro regime’s untrustworthiness regarding the quality of health care provided in the communist dictatorship.
All in all, Senator Rubio is a formidable political talent, and it is easy to see him making a successful or at least competitive run for the White House in 2016 or later. With the exception of immigration and perhaps a few other minor issues, he has largely upheld free-market and limited-government principles, and could probably be expected to do so in the Oval Office as well.
Senator Rubio has consistently embraced policies that are pro-growth and pro-market, with only occasional deviations.
On taxes, Rubio has advocated for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, cutting the corporate tax rate in exchange for eliminating deductions and exemptions, and an overall lower level of taxation that will help the economy to grow. Along with Senator Coons of Delaware, he has taken the lead in extending various business-friendly tax provisions that generally are set to expire on an annual basis. While these tax provisions, which include breaks for research and development as well as capital investment, can be seen as maintaining the complexity and favoritism embedded in the current tax code and therefore at odds with free-market thinking, without these extensions the overall level of taxation would increase and further stunt an already lagging economy.
Most recently, Senator Rubio outlined a proposed individual tax reform plan that would embrace only two rates, 15 and 35 percent, in exchange for eliminating many deductions and exemptions while also expanding the child tax credit from $1,000 to $3,500. The bigger child tax credit tends to be favored by conservatives more oriented towards social issues and family values, while those with a more free-market, pro-growth bent tend to dislike the bigger credit because it does little to boost growth. Overall, Rubio’s tax reform agenda fits well within the conservative movement and is likely to be popular on the campaign trail if he seeks the 2016 presidential nomination.
Senator Rubio has also been a staunch advocate of cutting federal spending. Among other proposals he has called for spending on non-defense programs to be frozen at 2008 levels, and he supports a balanced budget amendment. He has submitted legislation to return approximately $45 billion in federal funds sitting unused in accounts, as well as to eliminate earmarks. Rubio has also supported legislation to reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent over 4 years through attrition.
In a move that drew both criticism and praise, Rubio opposed the Paul Ryan budget in 2011, arguing that it added $60 billion in spending in the short term that was likely to wind up being continued instead of eliminated over time.
On health care, Senator Rubio has embraced a relatively standard set of free-market solutions such as expanded health savings accounts, medical malpractice reform, interstate sale of health insurance, and equalizing the tax treatment of individual and employer-provided health insurance. Rubio campaigned against Obamacare in his 2010 election, and has been a reliable vote to repeal it.
On entitlements, Rubio has staked out relatively aggressive positions favoring fundamental reforms, including raising the Social Security and Medicare eligibility ages over time, rising to age 70 by 2098. He has also voiced support for turning Medicare into a ‘premium support’ plan, where individuals receive a fixed amount of money and obtain coverage in what would presumably be a tightly-controlled market.
Rubio has spoken about how entitlements have ‘weakened’ the American public. In a 2011 address at the Ronald Reagan Library, he explained that at one time it was the role of individuals, families, local communities, and local faith-based institutions to care for the sick and impoverished, while today the government has taken on that role. These types of comments are likely to endear Rubio to a large number of Republicans of both the libertarian/limited government variety as well as more socially conservative members of the Republican coalition.
On the issue of free trade Rubio is largely indistinguishable from most conservative Republicans, voting regularly to approve major trade deals. He has supported continued subsidies to sugar producers however, justifying his vote on the basis that other countries subsidize their sugar industries as well and it would put U.S. producers at a disadvantage to lose their support. Whether his position is based on what he believes is good policy or is simply a politically-driven decision based on the parochial interests of Florida’s sugar industry, Rubio’s position on sugar subsidies should be a disappointment to free trade advocates.
Aside from his vote to keep sugar subsidies, Rubio has generally supported reforms to the U.S. system of agricultural subsidies, including voting for measures that would impose income caps on those eligible for subsidies.
On energy and environmental issues, Rubio has been outspoken in his support for expanded energy production including drilling in Alaska, off the continental shelf, and in Western lands where shale oil is abundant. He has also signaled his support for nuclear energy, and has endorsed the Keystone XL Pipeline being held up by the Obama administration.
As a state legislator in Florida he supported fairly modest incentives supporting solar energy and hybrid vehicles, such as allowing free or reduced-price use of the state’s toll roads by hybrid vehicles. For the most part, however, Rubio’s positions on subsidies for alternative energy boondoggles fits well within the conservative mainstream. He has spoken out against the Solyndra loans and similar corporate-welfare giveaways aimed at ‘green’ energy projects, and opposes any form of cap-and-trade or carbon tax based on fears about climate change.
He has stated that he is skeptical of the claims of climate change alarmists. Rubio also co-sponsored legislation that would prevent the President from imposing stringent regulations on coal power plants that would effectively shut them down and raise energy prices. He has fought against EPA’s efforts to regulate Florida’s streams, rivers and lakes.
When it comes to immigration, Rubio is likely to find more opposition than support among conservatives for his position. While he has backed off of his support for the original Gang of Eight compromise legislation, his retreat seems more tactical than policy-based.
His basic position seems to be that the border should be secured, illegal immigrants currently here should be allowed to remain (presuming no additional criminal activity), and legal immigration should be expanded particularly as regards to highly-skilled immigrants. While many in the business community and the more libertarian-oriented elements of the conservative coalition are likely to agree with Senator Rubio on this approach, most conservatives are unlikely to embrace his position. This could prove to be the single largest stumbling block in a potential Rubio campaign for the White House.
Overall, Senator Marco Rubio seems to embrace free-market, limited government positions in terms of the economy. While his support for sugar subsidies is troubling, it can likely be dismissed as simply the sort of political accommodation that all politicians need to make at one time or another. Fortunately, his departure from free-market principles in this case seems to be a one-off, and not part of a consistent pattern.
Like nearly every potential 2016 candidate, particularly those with only a few years in Congress, there is not a substantial track record on national security issues for Senator Rubio.
In his nearly four years in the U.S. Senate, however, Rubio has staked out a number of positions that suggest he tends towards the more-hawkish wing of the Republican Party, favoring keeping military options on the table in Iran and Syria. He has favored keeping sanctions on Iran and strengthening them until they abandon their nuclear weapons program, and also urged the Obama administration to relist North Korea as a state-sponsor of terrorism because of that nation’s support for Iran and Syria.
Rubio’s public comments indicate he believes the U.S. has a leading role to play in ensuring a stable and secure world, and he has opposed defense cuts that he sees as emboldening our enemies and abandoning our allies, resulting in a diminished ability for the U.S. to influence world events.
He has supported extension of the wiretap provisions of the Patriot Act, which is likely to generate some opposition to him from the more libertarian- and privacy-minded members of the Republicans coalition.
Rubio serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and is the ranking member of the subcommittee handling East Asian and Pacific affairs, and also sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence. These assignments may give him a better familiarity with national security issues than others seeking the Presidency in 2016, and may make it easier for voters to see him in the Commander in Chief role.
Senator Rubio has consistently taken conservative positions regarding non-economic issues such as school choice, gun rights, abortion, and other staples of conservative social issues.
In 2013 Rubio proposed what was described as “the most far-reaching school choice legislation in U.S. history,” a plan that would allow low-income parents to use vouchers from private organizations that receive funding through a new federal tax credit available to both individuals and corporations. The proposal is in line with Rubio’s long-standing support of school choice, going back to his advocacy for Florida’s voucher program that relies on a similar funding mechanism.
Rubio also signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation that would convert up to $14 billion in federal Title I school aid to be converted to school vouchers for low-income students, and has expressed his opposition to the federal Common Core standards.
Rubio has consistently supported pro-life positions, including opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. He has supported laws to prohibit taking minors across state lines for abortions and also voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and stated his belief that it is a “matter of medical science” that life begins at conception.
On marriage, Rubio has sought a middle-ground of sorts, expressing support for the traditional definition of marriage but also supporting the right of states to define marriage as they wish, including same-sex marriage. He has spoken out against growing intolerance shown towards supporters of traditional marriage, citing the attacks on Chick fil A and Mozilla. While he supports allowing states to chart their own path on same-sex marriage, he has spoken out against judges striking down state laws prohibiting it.
Senator Rubio has been a consistent backer of 2nd Amendment rights, opposing the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have expanded background checks to private firearm sales. As a member of the Florida legislature Rubio supported the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ and ‘Castle Doctrine’ laws that expanded legal protections to people using guns in self-defense, and also supported legislation allowing employees to keep firearms in their vehicles on company property.
Although 10th Amendment purists may find things to dislike about several of Rubio’s positions (and any other candidate’s as well), he does seem to favor allowing states to have a greater say in their own affairs as demonstrated by his support for states finding their own way on same-sex marriage. He supported Arizona’s immigration-related law based on 10th Amendment principles, and as a candidate in 2009 expressed strong support for the 10th Amendment.
Senator Rubio’s positions on traditional, American values seem to be fully consistent with positions held by most conservatives, and should pose little problem for him in a nomination fight.
The single-biggest vulnerability that Marco Rubio would face in a presidential nomination contest is his both his position and history of flip-flops on the immigration issue. Opponents of amnesty, however that term is defined, are likely to be unhappy with his support for the Gang of Eight comprehensive reform bill that allowed most illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. with a pathway to citizenship. Even some who support his position may be troubled by his original opposition to such a policy while campaigning in 2010, later support, and then his backing away from the legislation after encountering fierce opposition from many conservatives.
Aside from that one issue, there are several mildly embarrassing things that opponents may target, including the foreclosure of a house he co-owned with another state legislature and his use of a credit card provided by the Republican Party of Florida. Both issues seem to have been resolved with little to suggest unethical or inappropriate behavior on his part, but opponents are still likely to make an issue of them.