Five years ago, Rubio arrived with a potential that thrilled Republicans. He was young, ambitious, charismatic, fluent in English and Spanish, and beloved by the establishment and the tea party. But Rubio had arrived at one of the least ambitious moments in Senate history and saw many of his ideas fizzle. Democrats killed his debt-cutting plans. Republicans killed his immigration reform. The two parties actually came together to kill his AGREE Act, a small-bore, hands-across-the-aisle bill that Rubio had designed just to get a win on something. Now, he’s done. “He hates it,” a longtime friend from Florida said, speaking anonymously to say what Rubio would not.
It's not exactly a secret that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) doesn't show up for work much anymore. Even among sitting senators running for president, the far-right Floridian just doesn't make an effort to keep up appearances on Capitol Hill.
Part of this, of course, is the result of his campaign schedule, but part of it also relates to the fact that Rubio appears to dislike his job quite a bit. The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold has a terrific piece on this today.
It's entirely possible, of course, that Republican primary voters won't care. If much of the GOP base is enthralled by a blowhard New York land developer and an unhinged retired neurosurgeon, there's no reason to think they'd balk at a senator who's had an unsuccessful, five-year tenure.
But for a mainstream audience, the fact that Rubio effectively wasted his Capitol Hill career, achieving practically nothing despite all the promise and hype, isn't much of a selling point.
I suspect many Rubio supporters will naturally want to draw parallels between his record and President Obama's Senate tenure. And at a certain level, they have a point -- Obama was quickly frustrated by Congress' pace. David Axelrod later admitted that the Illinois Democrat "was bored being a senator" and quickly grew "restless."
It seems the same words could be applied to the junior senator from Florida.
The difference, though, is that Obama put in far more effort than Rubio, and as a result, he had more success. As a senator, Obama developed a reputation as a work horse, being well prepared for briefings and hearings, introducing a lot of bills, and developing an expertise on serious issues like counter-proliferation.
There's a great story from 2005 in which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a day-long hearing on U.S. policy in Iraq, and then-Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ill.) praised Obama for being the only other senator who was on hand for the entire thing, start to finish. As Simon Maloy noted, "It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done."
Rubio has never developed that kind of reputation among his colleagues. On the contrary, he's seen as a senator who misses a lot of votes, skips a lot of hearings, and fails to show up for a lot of briefings.
To date, not one Republican senator has even endorsed Rubio's presidential bid.
Eight years ago, there was a talking point that made the rounds in GOP circles when going after then-candidate Obama: he'd never run a city; he'd never run a state; and he'd never run a business. The trouble is, the exact same talking point can be applied to Rubio, and can even be made a little worse: he's never built up a legislative record, either.
It's not fair to say Rubio never passed a bill, but it's awfully close. According to congress.gov, the far-right Floridian, over the course of five years, took the lead in sponsoring a measure that was signed into law. It's called the "Girls Count Act," and it encourages developing countries to register girls’ births. There's certainly nothing wrong with the policy, but it was a largely symbolic measure that passed both chambers without so much as a vote.
He also helped name September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.
That's about it.
Rubio hoped to succeed on comprehensive immigration reform, which could have been a signature issue for him, but his party ended up killing the bill he helped write. The senator himself has to now oppose his own policy to pander to the Republican base, which considers the Rubio bill "amnesty."
The result is an unfortunate situation in which Rubio is burdened by the worst of both worlds: he's a career politician with no real accomplishments to his name.