Florida's Sen. Rubio targets foreign policy, decries divisive Obama

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 10:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Marco Rubio says President Obama's divisive politics have weakened U.S. foreign policy, factored into Congress' inability to reform immigration policy and added to the spectacle of the disastrous Affordable Care Act rollout.

“Presidents have to be more than just partisan leaders,” Rubio, Florida's junior U.S. senator, told the Tribune-Review. “... When you demonize your opponents, your ability to be an international leader and bring people together to solve problems is destroyed.”

Rubio, 42, delivered the Republican Party's response to Obama's 2013 State of the Union address. Some peg the charismatic Cuban American as potential presidential material.

Instead of immigration, he is speaking out on foreign policy, delivering a speech last week to the conservative American Enterprise Institute that advocated restructured aid to Egypt, vigorous engagement in trade and diplomacy, and support for democracy, human rights and religious freedoms abroad.

He soundly rejects the either-or policies of hawks and doves.

“What has been frustrating to me about American foreign policy is that, as much as any other issue we face in government, it is the most nuanced. And yet in the coverage of it, it is almost always a false choice that is presented,” he told the Trib afterward. “You are either a dove who doesn't want to do anything, or you are a hawk where every solution has a military angle to it.”

Since coming to Washington in 2011, Rubio has beefed up his presence in foreign relations. He co-chairs the Senate's National Security Working Group, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and is the ranking Republican on the Asia subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Though some of his positions are in sync with the Obama administration's, Rubio said the White House cannot communicate a message that compels support.

“This president is incapable of rallying folks around ideas because he chose to be a divisive figure,” said Rubio. “His route to re-election was to claim that his opponents were bad people who did not care about other people.”

Syria and Iran

When the United States considered military intervention in Syria's 2 12-year civil war, Rubio supported Obama's proposed limited strike. He said he had become frustrated when the administration did not arm rebel forces before extremists co-opted them.

Rubio ultimately “voted against President Obama's plan for military action because he had no strategy,” he said.

Regarding Iran, he supports use of force with Iran's buildup to nuclear power. “They are following the blueprint of North Korea,” he said, noting that Iran is pushing the United States to lift sanctions while not conceding anything irreversible.

Iran will continue to develop long-range missile capabilities and likely will look to find an excuse to use a nuclear weapon, Rubio believes.

“Quite frankly, I believe that the administration knows that,” he said. “I think that they have made the decision they can avoid engaging militarily over the next three years, and it will be up to a future administration to deal with consequences of it.”

‘Cannot fix Obamacare'

As with foreign policy, Obama has not persuaded Americans to buy into his signature domestic policy of health insurance for all — again because of divisiveness, Rubio said.

“It's always an us-against-them thing on everything.”

Rubio talked about defunding the Affordable Care Act but did not become a main player in the two-week government shutdown leading to October's budget vote.

Last week, he introduced legislation to repeal a provision of the health care law — “risk corridors” that shield insurance companies from unforeseen marketplace shifts if more expensive patients sign up than predicted.

If costs are lower, Rubio said, insurers pay the government, but if they are much higher than anticipated, taxpayers would pay the difference.

“My bill would eliminate risk corridors altogether,” he said of the Obamacare Bailout Prevention Act.

In truth, there is no solution to make the law work, and Congress is delaying its inevitable elimination, Rubio said.

“You cannot fix Obamacare. ... No matter how many patchwork reforms you have, you cannot save it,” he said.

Thorny immigration issue

The son of immigrants in Miami who left Cuba in the late 1950s, Rubio cooled his national presence since becoming the GOP's face for immigration reform last spring. His star power waned among Tea Party activists when he emerged as one of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators who pushed an immigration bill that ultimately stalled in the House.

The bill, which the Senate approved 68-32 in June, outlined stronger border security, overhauled the visa program and provided a path to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.

Rubio should not have appeared to move toward Obama's view on immigration while Republicans had little tolerance for the president's position on anything, said Bruce Haynes, a GOP analyst at Purple Strategies in Washington.

“He was not judged on the merits of his solutions, and whether the policy was right or wrong, the politics were very difficult for him inside the base of the Republican Party,” Haynes said. “The party was still bruised and wounded and trying to find itself, and he seemed to be moving beyond that too quickly.”

Now Rubio said he favors the piecemeal approach of House Republican leaders.

“We need to make progress on the 80 to 90 percent of the things we agree on,” such as border security, attracting smart, hard-working immigrants and ensuring a functional guest-worker program, the senator said.

Yet debate lingers on what to do with people who are here illegally, he said. “The problem is that the Democrats' position is unless we do everything, including the thing we don't agree on, we won't do anything.”

All-American family

Rubio will spend Thanksgiving with his family in West Miami. He, wife Jeannette and their four children will host extended family for a traditional turkey dinner, with two birds cooked the Southern way.

“We started serving deep-fried turkey a few years ago, and I love that,” he said.

He's a fan of pumpkin pie and football, going back to his playing days, which his son's pee-wee team he coaches, will be in the playoffs this week.

For now, Rubio isn't talking about what he sees ahead.

Like his parents who sought America's exceptionalism, Rubio is moved by the old-fashioned American dream.

“What makes America unique is that this is one of the few places on Earth where it does not matter whether your parents were poor, or if you have a connection to power, or if no one from your family has ever graduated from college,” he said. “If you are willing to work hard, you could go as far as your ability will take you.”

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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