Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio returned to the Senate Tuesday to take his first vote since September 24th. The vote is one that has political ramifications for the Florida senator and could endear him to conservatives. Rubio missed nine votes in the last three-and-a-half weeks. He has come under fire on the campaign trail for missing more votes than most of his fellow Senate colleagues also running for president, according to an NBC analysis.
Many of Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) detractors -- in both parties -- have made a concerted effort to turn his attendance problem into an important campaign issue. For the most part, I considered the issue largely unimportant -- right up until yesterday.
The truth is, presidential candidates who are sitting senators miss a lot of votes; Rubio's not the first and he won't be the last. Indeed, it's entirely bipartisan -- take a look at Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's attendance in 2007 and you'll see two sitting senators who cast some important votes, but who were also on the campaign trail more than they were on the Hill.
This matters a bit more with Rubio because he, even more than the other senators running for president, seems to have given up on his day job altogether. In fact, the Florida senator, in addition to skipping important votes, also blows off important briefings and hearings, which occasionally leads Rubio to say things that don't make a lot of sense.
But yesterday introduced a whole new angle to the conversation.
The Florida lawmaker has skipped plenty of key votes related to actual governing, but he made a rare appearance at work yesterday because the Senate was voting on a partisan, anti-immigrant show-vote targeting "sanctuary cities" -- and he wanted to grandstand for the cameras.
“All we’re saying here is if you ... aren’t doing your job, they get to fire you,” Rubio proudly declared. “This should actually be the rule in the entire government -- if you aren’t not doing your job, you should be fired.”
Said the politician who receives a six-figure salary to be a U.S. senator despite the fact that he rarely shows up for work.
Rubio could, of course, step down from his Senate seat -- which he intends to give up next year anyway, win or lose -- and devote himself entirely to his presidential campaign. There's some precedent for such a move; it's what Bob Dole did in 1996.
But the Floridian prefers a different tack: he intends to remain a senator, continue to pick up a paycheck, largely ignore his day-to-day Senate duties, but show up when he has a chance to pander to anti-immigrant activists with a symbolic vote with no practical value.
Or put another way, it's that much more difficult for Rubio to defend his poor attendance record by pointing to his campaign schedule, while at the same time interrupting that schedule to show up for votes like yesterday's and whining about public officials who aren't doing their jobs.
Adding insult to injury, this is the same senator who has complained in the past about others failing to cast important votes. “Why do you get paid to be here, then, if you’re not going to vote on anything?" Rubio asked last year.
The young senator had a perfectly credible excuse for blowing off his Senate duties, but Rubio has made it far more difficult to take his defense seriously.