Sen. Marco Rubio faced a defining moment Monday in deciding to backPresident Trump’s pick for secretary of State. Rex Tillerson, all but ensuring the nominee’s confirmation.
Rubio has made no secret of his concerns about the former ExxonMobil executive’s ties with Russia, but he was under enormous pressure not to be the lone Republican holdout against Trump’s choice to be the nation’s top diplomat.
Tillerson’s first test will be Monday as the Foreign Relations Committee votes.
The Florida lawmaker dug in on Tillerson on Monday, but also resolved that Trump should have his choices in the Cabinet.
“His answers on a number of other important questions were troubling,” Rubio said of Tillerson in a lengthy statement.
“While he condemned Russia for ‘supporting Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war,’ he refused to publicly acknowledge that Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes. Despite his extensive experience in Russia and his personal relationship with many of its leaders, he claimed he did not have sufficient information to determine whether Putin and his cronies were responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists, and political opponents.”
Still, Rubio argued, he would defer to Trump to put his national security team in place.
“I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the Cabinet,” Rubio said.
Tillerson is now expected to sail to confirmation. His other main GOP detractors, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.),jointly announced over the weekend that they would give their support.
Defying Trump would have been risky for Rubio, but could also have been politically beneficial.
Rubio’s profile is poised to rise in the Trump era as a new-generation leader of a Republican Party that remains deeply divided over the president.
For many anti-Trump Republicans, the senator’s failed 2016 presidential bid stands as a stark reminder of what could have been.
His vote on Tillerson was additionally fraught because part of Rubio’s political appeal lies in his growing expertise in foreign affairs and national security. He has positioned himself as a counter to Trump’s untested"America first” policy.
Standing alone, though, would have come at a cost. Trump has shown he does not welcome detractors and, in fact, holds grudges against them. Prominent Republicans have reportedly been hammering Rubio with the hard sell.
Rubio is no stranger to pressure from political higher-ups. He was strongly encouraged to seek reelection to the Senate if he ever hoped to run for president again -- even though he had already announced he was leaving Congress. GOP leaders at the time were worried his Florida seat could fall to Democrats if he retired.