MIAMI — Sen. Marco Rubio joined the chorus of Republican lawmakers who disagree with Gov. Rick Scott for calling a Cuba-crackdown bill unenforceable and unconstitutional.
"I believe that it's constitutional," Rubio told the Miami Herald and WLRN-Miami Herald News, "but I don't sit on the Supreme Court. So it's not going to be my decision to make."
Asked if Congress and the president are needed to act to authorize the controversial Florida law — as Scott believes — Rubio said, "I don't think so."
His stance was the gentlest of rebukes of Scott, who incensed Rubio's fellow Republican lawmakers from Miami-Dade on Tuesday when he signed the crackdown law with great fanfare at a public event at the Freedom Tower — only to issue a signing statement moments later that essentially called the law meaningless.
The lawmakers, all members of Miami's Cuban exile community, felt betrayed by the statement, in large part because Scott didn't tell them he would issue it. They said the statement undermined the law, which prohibits state and local governments from contracting with companies that have business operations in Cuba or Syria.
One of Rubio's close friends and allies, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, even threatened to sue the governor if the law didn't go into effect on the scheduled July 1 date.
Scott retreated somewhat from his signing statement the following day, when he agreed with the lawmakers that the law is valid and would become effective in two months.
Regardless of the governor's retrenchment, the political damage has been done. The signing statement is sure to be used in a lawsuit from multi-national construction firms that would be prohibited from seeking major public-works projects.
Some speculated that Scott was trying to have it both ways: Signing a bill to appease the exile community, while planting a poison pill in his signing statement to appeal to big business.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, as well as firms such as the Brazil-based construction conglomerate Odebrecht, raised concerns about the law. Brazil's embassy also called the governor's office this week with questions, newly released emails show.
In his three-page signing statement, Scott mentioned toward the bottom that a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, bars state and local governments from making laws that affect foreign commerce and that conflict with federal law.
"Because such a conflict may exist, the restrictions will not go into effect unless and until Congress passes, and President Obama signs, a law permitting states to independently impose such sanctions against Cuba and Syria," Scott said in his letter.
The key word in all of this: "conflict."
Rubio and others say the new law does not conflict with federal law, which holds that Cuba and Syria are state sponsors of terror along with Iran and Sudan.
"When I was the speaker of the House, we passed a bill that divested the state's investment plan from investments with Iran — a very legitimate position to take," Rubio said, noting this bill adds Syria and Cuba to the list.
"The criticism has been: 'states don't set foreign policy.' Well, they don't," Rubio said. "And I don't think they're doing that in this case. They are only reflecting existing foreign policy that says the Syria and Cuba are states sponsors of terrorism."