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Opinion Why isn’t Marco Rubio braver?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” (CBS)

It’s not every day that the office of Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sends out an article favorable to a GOP senator who supports President Trump, voted for the tax bill and backed repealing the Affordable Care Act. But then not every GOP lawmaker has as large a gap between what he says and what he does as Sen. Marco Rubio.

The article was from the Economist, the quotes from the Florida senator who derided Trump as unfit, then supported him as president and now wouldn’t vote against him — even on the only possible compromise on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program:

“Government has an essential role to play in buffering this transition,” he says. “If we basically say everyone is on their own and the market’s going to take care of it, we will rip the country apart, because millions of good hardworking people lack the means to adapt.” Economic liberty, in this retelling, becomes something the government is required to guarantee. It is the freedom to enjoy “the dignity of work”, says Mr Rubio. “There needs to be a conservative movement that addresses these realities.” . . .
Mr Rubio’s proposal, to double the tax credit to $2,000 per child and pay for it by making a small increase to the corporate rate his party wanted, was decried by some Republicans as socialism. The watered-down version they accepted, as the price of Mr Rubio’s support for the bill, excluded the poorest families. “There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” he says. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

Certainly Rubio was aware when he voted for the tax cut that corporations in all likelihood would do exactly what they did — spend most money on stock buybacks. So why vote for the tax bill? Why not support its repeal?

Rubio says he wants to help fix the problems that “the bartender and the maid face today,” yet favored a plan to cut Medicaid and tried to block subsidies (the “risk corridors”) to keep Obamacare premiums low. If there were an alternative to Obamacare that would keep or improve health care for Americans of modest means, he did not share it.

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He rubber stamped every Trump Cabinet appointee in 2017, even those lacking basic familiarity with the job or government experience.

With the sole exception of support for sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia that Trump opposed, Rubio has become a dependable Trump ally on virtually every issue. While he is supportive of the intelligence community and the FBI, Rubio hasn’t been willing to call out the president for Trump’s slander of both. He didn’t demand a select committee or an independent commission to investigate the Russia scandal.

Most Rubio critics attribute the gap between rhetoric and votes as pure hypocrisy or cowardice, evidence of a young man too afraid of offending the right wing of his party and too timid to strike an independent course. They had an “I told you so” moment when he recently hired Heritage Action for America chief Mike Needham, infamous for his hard-line advocacy and negative scores for senators and members of Congress who voted to deviate from the hard-right playbook. If Rubio wants to become bolder and more innovative, it is far from clear Needham is the one to help him. We can only hope that Needham gives Rubio some “cover” to finally, after all this time, swim against the tide.

Having heard for years Rubio’s gauzy rhetoric followed by his capitulation to the far fight, I’ll not hold my breath waiting for signs of intellectual independence. For now, we can at least be pleased that he recognized the tax bill he voted for was a fraud premised on outmoded economic theory. When he comes out for its repeal or votes to reject anti-government orthodoxy, I’ll be convinced that he has turned over a new leaf.

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