I really don’t want to keep writing about Marco Rubio’s missed Senate votes, but Marco Rubio keeps forcing me to write about his missed Senate votes. As I wrote the last time this came up, this really shouldn’t be that difficult a problem for him: just say you’re missing votes because you’re running for president and you love your country and bleep blorp blurp congratulations, you’ve ducked an issue no one actually cares about. But Rubio seems insistent upon making absenteeism a problem for himself.
First off, he keeps on claiming that he’s doing the “important” work of a senator – committee hearings, constituent service, etc. – while missing the unimportant business of casting votes. This is argument doesn’t fly because he isn’t actually doing the committee work he says he’s doing. And he’s trying to be two things at the same time: a detached outsider who’s sick of the meaningless grunt work of the Senate, and also a senator who is still doing an effective job representing his constituents. You can’t be both! Though you can still collect the paycheck.
And now there’s a big Washington Post story out quoting Rubio and his associates describing how he actively loathes the Senate after less than one term and can’t wait to be done with it because it’s too plodding and sclerotic for his personal ambition:
“I don’t know that ‘hate’ is the right word,” Rubio said in an interview. “I’m frustrated.”
This year, as Rubio runs for president, he has cast the Senate — the very place that cemented him as a national politician — as a place he’s given up on, after less than one term. It’s too slow. Too rule-bound. So Rubio, 44, has decided not to run for his seat again. It’s the White House or bust.
Now, he’s done. “He hates it,” a longtime friend from Florida said, speaking anonymously to say what Rubio would not.
Which makes for an odd campaign message.
Rubio must convince voters that his decision to leave the Senate — giving up the power he already has — is actually a mark of character, a sign that he is too dedicated to public service to stay.
To be clear, hatred of the Senate is no vice. Being a senator is awful, especially right now when a large chunk of Rubio’s party won’t let anything of substance happen because they promised their constituents to not let Barack Obama do president things anymore. Being a freshman senator is really awful – you have zero clout and have to suck up to institutional barnacles like Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Graham to get anything done. The Senate is a terrible place filled with some of the worst people in America. Clearly it’s not the proper environment for someone like Rubio, who is highly ambitious and has little patience for the bureaucratic inertia of government, which kind of makes you wonder why he even wants to be in government at all.
But what’s interesting about Rubio’s experience is that members of both parties went out of their way to grant Rubio more influence than his position would ordinarily merit. They brought him into the negotiations over the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill because they recognized his star power and hoped that he would be an effective salesman when it came time to pitch the legislation to congressional Republicans and conservative media. And, by all accounts, Rubio was instrumental to getting the measure passed.
But then, less than a month after passage, Rubio realized he’d made a political miscalculation and started distancing himself from his own accomplishment as conservatives in the House lined up in opposition to the bill. Recognizing that his hard-won legislative accomplishment was being undone by members of his own party on the other side of the Capitol, Rubio did what any frustrated legislator would do: he blamed everything on Barack Obama. So Rubio was given more power than he’d earned, wielded it to get a bill halfway to passage, and gave up on it because it was politically expedient, and then blamed the wrong person for its failure. So frustrating! Arrrrrgh!
And that’s why his whole explanation about wanting to promote himself to the presidency to escape the frustrations and nonsense of the legislature doesn’t make a lot of sense. The gridlock and frustration of the Senate would follow Rubio to the White House, given that the president can’t do much without the approval of Congress. Obama was able to pass some big-ticket items early in his presidency because he had strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. President Rubio would not likely have such a large legislative cushion – there’s a good chance the Senate could flip back to Democratic control next fall (Rubio vacating his seat means there’s no GOP incumbent running in Florida, which only makes it more difficult for the party to hold on). Even if it doesn’t, Democrats will almost certainly gain seats and have more than enough votes to sustain filibusters of pretty much everything. Getting stuff passed would require compromise, and as Rubio himself learned, much of the House Republican caucus would sooner self-amputate a foot than cut a deal with a Democrat.
So Rubio would very likely become extremely frustrated as president too. But would he be so frustrated that he’d “quit” that job too? Probably not. The president, while bound by Congress on many issues, has pretty wide latitude when it comes to starting wars. Rubio seems pretty keen on blowing some stuff up and spreading freedom at gunpoint, and seeing as Congress has largely given up its role as a check on the war-making powers of the executive, Rubio would have a free hand to dabble in some neoconservative foreign policy experimentation.
But if the presidency did become too much of a slog for the famously impatient Mr. Rubio, he would have an escape hatch that would still allow him to exert a massive amount of influence over public policy: he could just nominate himself to the Supreme Court.