Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Marco Rubio maintaining low-key approach to Senate

MIAMI – After posing for photographs with top supporters for more than an hour, Marco Rubio strolled quietly into a ballroom at the Miami Airport Hilton on Saturday night, found his place at the honored guests' table at the front of the room and prepared to address the home crowd that so enthusiastically got him elected to the U.S. Senate.

It was a subdued entrance for a man heralded as a rock star last year when he swept into office as the fresh face of the Republican wave that overtook Washington in November — a status that made pop culture Friday night when Rubio was mentioned on the gameshow Jeopardy!

"Elected senator from Florida," host Alex Trebek intoned, "this son of Cuban exiles has been called a rising conservative political star."

"Who is Rubio?" the contestant quickly replied to the answer in the midterms category, which carried a $2,000 payoff. "Marco Ruuubio, right you are," Trebek said, attempting a Spanish accent.

But in Washington, the rising star has shunned the national spotlight and Sunday talk shows in an orchestrated effort to show he's focused on Florida. He maintained that approach Saturday at the Miami-Dade Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner, a fundraiser expected to net the GOP some $80,000 that featured Rubio as its keynote speaker.

Observers say Rubio is playing smart politics and have suggested he's taking a page from other senators who arrived with national profiles, including Hillary Clinton — now secretary of state — who was the first First Lady to be elected a senator. Clinton, who arrived in 2001, impressed fellow senators in the clubby, tradition-bound chamber by focusing on her work as a New York senator, rather than as a superstar.

Rubio, likewise, has turned down national press invites and shrugs off as media noise speculation that he'd be on a vice presidential shortlist. "This job is the one job that I wanted," he told a Fort Myers radio show.

To that end, he's made a practice of holding roundtable interviews with Florida reporters in the decidedly unglamorous basement office he temporarily occupies in the Senate. A favorite topic: the federal deficit.

His goal, said spokesman Alex Burgos, "is for his constituents to hold him accountable, even at this early going, that he is serving them well, that he is focused on their issues."

Rubio has not yet delivered his first speech on the Senate floor, but has worked to develop ties with Senate leadership. "He's using policy lunches, committee meetings, every opportunity he gets to get know his colleagues," Burgos said.

He's had dinner with Vice President Joe Biden at the vice president's residence and discussed war efforts at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Though Rubio became a darling of the tea party and attended rallies during the 2010 campaign, his early decisions have illustrated he's more the former Florida House speaker he once was than a tea party convert.

He hired a D.C. insider — Cesar Conda, an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney — as his chief of staff and he traveled in January to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

And he elected not to attend the first meeting of the Senate Tea Party caucus convened by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a decision that rankled some activists.

But Miami-Dade Republicans applauded Rubio's measured approach and continued to treat him with superstar devotion.

"Instead of going after quotes and attention and interviews, he's focusing on learning policy," said state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the Republican majority leader in Tallahassee.

Rubio was later introduced by state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez as "the reason we're all here — I don't think anyone's fooling themselves — Marco Rubio!"

The senator called Washington "crazy" and the political process "at best tone deaf…and at worst just lazy." He stuck to his speech about the dangers of the massive federal debt but also took time to acknowledge the grassroots he came from, pointing to a table in the back of the room full of young GOP volunteers.

"I remember that table — I used to have to sit there," Rubio said. "It wasn't that long ago. In about 15 or 16 years you're going to be sitting in one of these tables and probably standing behind this podium."

In Washington, Rubio keeps his profile considerably lower than many of his fellow freshman, including Paul and Broward Republican Allen West, a frequent guest on Fox News and keynote speaker at one of the biggest conservative gatherings in Washington.

Paul, meanwhile, has already delivered his first floor speech — warning that the U.S. faces a "fiscal nightmare, potentially a debt crisis." And while Paul pressed fellow senators to reject a 90-day extension of the Patriot Act, arguing that it represents the "permanent expansion of a police state," Rubio voted for the extension.

Former Florida Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami, who served with Rubio in the state House and was chief counsel to former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, suggested Rubio is "taking the longer view."

"It is traditional and wise for freshmen senators to keep a lower profile and study up before speaking out and I think that's what Marco is doing," Gelber said. "You have to earn the adjective senatorial and you do that by comporting yourself as a deliberative person, and some do that better than others."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing. Questions about Rubio's GOP party credit card spending that dogged him during the election have died down, but Rubio has close ties to his friend and ally, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who is under criminal investigation for his financial dealings.

Back home, Rubio has made the rounds across the state: He elected to skip the annual Conservative Political Action Committee conference — which West keynoted — to attend a small business seminar in Orlando and to tour the Jacksonville Naval Station. But he did deliver a video address to the conservative gathering, crediting his invite to CPAC in 2010 as a major factor in his come-from-behind U.S. Senate win.

"It instantly gave me credibility and was one of the real launching points for my campaign," he said. Next year, he added, "I'll see you in person."

Marco Rubio maintaining low-key approach to Senate 02/27/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 27, 2011 2:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bar review: Les Partners Lounge goes old-school in Clearwater

    Bars & Spirits

    There are some local places that I'm shocked aren't more well known, and I think that's the result of a general aversion to stepping out of one's comfort zone. I make regular concerted efforts to step outside of mine, which often leads me to strange and rewarding drinking establishments.

    Les Partners Lounge is an old-school, smoker-friendly cocktail lounge and live music venue tucked away in a nondescript shopping plaza in Island Estates.
  2. Local craft beer of the week: Plongeur a L'eponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.

    Bars & Spirits

    Tarpon Springs' Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. has a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to wild ale brewing, utilizing an open brewing approach involving uncovered fermenters in order to brew beer with local ambient microbes, reminiscent in some ways to the fermentation techniques used by rustic farmhouse breweries in Belgium …

     Plongeur a?€š€™L?ˆš??ponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, 6/23/17  Electric Chair Sour Shandy, Angry Chair Brewing, 6/30/17   Pulp Friction Grapefruit IPA, Motorworks Brewing 7/7/17
  3. Ramadan having an economic impact on local charities, businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Dodging the rain, a few families and customers gathered inside Petra Restaurant on Busch Boulevard. Around 8:30 p.m., the adham (or call to prayer) music begins, signaling Iftar, the end of the daily fast. Customers grabbed a plate to dig into the feast.

    Baha Abdullah, 35, the owner of the Sultan Market makes kataif, a common dessert that is eaten during the month long celebration of Ramadan in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Senate GOP leaders face tough job in selling health-care bill to their members


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders on Thursday moved swiftly to begin selling their health-care measure to substantially rewrite the Affordable Care Act to their wary members as they seek to garner enough support to pass the bill in an expected vote next week.

    U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill's chief author, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has said "Obamacare is collapsing around us, and the American people are desperately searching for relief." [AP]
  5. Rick Scott eyes Patronis as CFO, but it may not help him in Panhandle

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's expected pick of Jimmy Patronis as the state's next Chief Financial Officer would be a solid addition to the Republican Party ticket but may not do much to smooth some rough waters developing in the Panhandle over schools, area Republicans said this week.

    Former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, left, is being considered by Gov. Rick Scott for the state's chief financial officer. Patronis, seen with Scott in 2011, is considered one of the governor's chief loyalists.