WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio is not going the Jeff Flake route.
Though Rubio vividly clashed with Donald Trump on the campaign trail and said he was unfit for office, the Florida Republican has spent this year finding a way to work with the president. He’s remained quiet amid Trump’s frequent outburst and fights with fellow Republicans such as Flake.
“Jeff is a friend of mine. We disagree on one fundamental issue, very strongly, on Cuba, but have been able to do so very respectfully,” Rubio told reporters on Wednesday when asked about Flake’s extraordinary speech a day earlier denouncing Trump.
Rubio said he’d only read excerpts and called Flake a “high quality guy and very principled” but did not embrace Flake’s tactics. Yet Rubio also sought to differentiate himself from Trump.
“I don’t want to get overly philosophical because I used to make fun of philosophers,” Rubio said before launching into a story about how inclusive the Roman Empire was but unraveled due to a “recalcitrant Senate” and a “complete and total breakdown of societal norms and behaviors.”
“Without singling out an individual. I don’t behave like the president. We’re different people. The president has a way of expressing himself and it’s appealed to a lot of very frustrated people,” Rubio said.
“There’s a populist backlash that is both economic but also cultural. They are tired of being lectured to and told that their values are wrong, and not only wrong but they need to go away and be quiet. I think political correctness in this country went way too far and people got tired of it. And (Trump’s) become a vessel to respond to that. And that’s a real sentiment in our country that can’t be ignored. It manifested itself in this election,” Rubio went on.
“By the same token, we have to understand that a republic really can’t function unless there are some norms of behavior that are not legally prescribed or in the law. It’s just the way human beings should conduct themselves in interacting with one another. Everybody will handle it differently and I don’t always pass this test, but what do I try to do? I try to behave the way I think people in this position should behave.
“You’ll have to ask Jeff and you’ll have to ask Bob Corker why they reached a point that they reached.
“I have disagreements with the White House and I have been able to address some of them privately and a couple of them more publicly, whether it was the initial response in Puerto Rico or some of the foreign policy issues in different parts of the world. But my view is this: 95 percent of what is going to happen to me today, I cannot control. What I can control is how I react to what happens. And what I’ve chosen to do more than ever is focus like a laser on the things that I can control and get done. So every minute that I spend on some of these other things – not that they are irrelevant – is time that I’m not spending on trying to get this stuff done.”
The meeting with reporters was so Rubio could pitch an increase in the child tax credit – and idea that Trump supports, as does his daughter Ivanka. Rubio’s also gotten Trump to make changes to Cuba policy and focus on Venezuela.
But as Trump continues to whip up controversy, Republicans have grown increasingly uncomfortable and worried about how it will affect their agenda – including the tax reform package Rubio expects will include doubling the child tax credit to $2,000. Largely, though, the party is hesitant to challenge Trump.
Rubio, despite his campaign jokes about Trump’s penis size, has not cut an angry or profane profile in politics. But he said Trump isn’t to blame for that atmosphere. Instead, he says society has gotten gradually more “crass” – and that the country needs to avoid a Roman-like fall.
“Do we honestly think that the president created this?” Rubio asked.