Marco Rubio: Tea Party Darling and Future USAID Administrator?
At an event hosted by the Brookings Institution in May, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke at length about his foreign policy philosophy. Amid widespread speculation that he might soon join the Republican ticket, Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, struck a moderate tone, emphasizing over and over the need for multilateralism, bipartisanship, as well as greater U.S. action to promote democracy and prevent global atrocities. As one reporter summed it up, Rubio’s speech “echoed talking points delivered almost weekly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”
While Rubio took partisan swipes at the president, he did not shy away from calling out lawmakers in his own party, including Tea Party voices that were critical to his electoral victory, for demanding U.S. disengagement from the global arena. “I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business,” he said, explaining that he saw the lives of all Americans as being “directly related to events abroad” which “make it impossible for us to focus only on our issues here are home.”
Aside from his usual hawkishness on Syria and Iran, Rubio failed to mount a serious critique of President Obama’s record or even differentiate his own views with the president’s core foreign policy approach. But what stood out most from the speech was Rubio’s inability – or unwillingness – to back up Romney’s foreign policy vision. At times throughout the speech, in fact, Rubio emphasized points that clearly conflicted with Romney, especially when the discussion came to foreign aid.
“Faced with historic deficits and a dangerous national debt,” Rubio explained, “there has been increasing talk of reducing our foreign aid budget.” Republicans, including most of the GOP candidates for president – have long opposed U.S. assistance programs. But Rubio, who has said in the past that the foreign aid budget is exaggerated and represents a “minuscule part of our overall budget,” dismissed the criticism and emphasized what role aid played in promoting U.S. interests around the world.
RUBIO: “I always begin my answer to that question with a question of my own. If we start doing less, who will start doing more? For example, would a world order where China, at least as we know it right now, was the leading power be as benignly disposed to the political and economic aspirations of other nations as we are?”
Rubio’s ardent defense of foreign aid was not only in stark contrast to his own party’s increasingly dangerous and misguided efforts to slash aid programs, but to Romney’s demagoguing of the issue during the primary. In fact, Rubio’s question about a world in which China started to give more aid than the United States ran directly counter to Romney, who flat out said last year that “we ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people” abroad who need assistance.
ROMNEY: “Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give it to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are — that are — and think of that borrowed money…”
Rubio’s defense of foreign aid in the speech was so impassioned that at times he sounded more like the USAID Administrator than someone in contention to run beside an anti-aid candidate who, despite his inconsistent anti-China statements, thinks we might be better off letting the “Chinese to take care of the people….”
Walid Zafar is a Truman Partner.