Things have been looking up for Marco Rubio recently. With Scott Walker out of the race and Jeb Bush slowly tanking, the Florida senator has become the savvy pick for front-runner, he’s up in the polls, and the betting markets say he’s likely to be the GOP nominee. However, he’s still facing some serious hurdles: He’s well behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the polls, as a first-term senator running for president he’s often accused of lacking experience (the Barack Obama comparisons only make things worse), and he’s being attacked for having the worst attendance record of any senator in the current Congress.
Over the weekend, Rubio debuted a new response that could be the solution to all three problems. When pressed on CNN’s State of the Union about why he’s missed so many votes, the senator explained a lot of them “won’t mean anything” and will ultimately go nowhere or get vetoed by Obama. But isn’t that a bit hypocritical, since Rubio just declared that federal workers who don’t perform their jobs should be able to be fired? “Voting is not the only part of the Senate job. The most important thing a senator does is constituent service,” Rubio explained, adding that he still attends intelligence briefings. “I’m not missing votes because I’m on vacation,” he said. “I’m running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again.”
While some might see a senator arguing that voting isn’t really all that important as a gaffe, Rubio dug in on Sunday night. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said that after nearly five years in office, he’s sick of Washington dysfunction. An anonymous longtime friend said Rubio “hates” the Senate, but the candidate wouldn’t go that far. “I don’t know that ‘hate’ is the right word,” Rubio said. “I’m frustrated.”
After seeing most of his legislative efforts fail — including a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate and never got a vote in the House — Rubio is through trying to change Congress from the inside, which is why he’s running for the presidency, but not reelection to his Senate seat. “That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate. I am not running for reelection,” Rubio said in the last GOP debate.
Sure, Florida’s election laws and competitive political landscape would have made it hard for Rubio to fall back on running for Senate, but that’s not why he’s abandoning the legislative branch. While he’s worked in politics for more than 15 years, he’s definitely not “just another all talk, no action, politician,” as Trump calls him. And the Koch brothers haven’t given him $1 billion (yet).
Last month Rubio told Iowa voters that when he ran for his Senate seat back in 2010 against former Democratic governor Charlie Crist, the Establishment “actively tried to undermine” his candidacy, and they still aren’t backing him now. “The truth of the matter is when I decided to run for the presidency, all of the same people that told me not to run for the Senate came out of the woodwork again and said it’s not your turn,” he said. “You haven’t been around long enough. We’re all going to line up behind somebody else.”
Clearly, Rubio is as much of a Washington outsider as Trump and Carson are, his lack of experience means he hasn’t been corrupted, and his terrible voting record is a sign that he won’t stand for congressional gridlock. And if voters don’t buy that, Rubio has another explanation: “In the history of presidential politics, people have, when they’ve been running for politics in the Senate, they’ve missed votes,” the senator told CNN. That’s true, but Rubio probably shouldn’t point out that missing more than 30 percent of the votes in the Senate puts him roughly on par with Senator Obama back in 2007.