"Classic Rubio": GOP colleagues wonder how Marco's going to get himself out of a jam on Tillerson

It’s Friday evening. We could all use a laugh.

If he votes for Tillerson after Wednesday’s confrontation, all of Rubio’s criticisms of the would-be secretary of state could come off as grandstanding rather than political courage. But if Rubio votes against Trump’s pick, he could very well draw the ire of Trump and national security stalwarts like Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates.

“Classic Rubio,” said one Republican senator who believes Rubio will support Tillerson. Voting against him “will be a tough thing to do.”…

Privately … senators and aides said they can’t figure out what Rubio’s endgame is. Perhaps he wants to make a show of needling Tillerson publicly, in hopes of securing enough concessions from the nominee later to allow him to vote yes. Or maybe Rubio just wants to send a message that he isn’t going to reflexively fall in line behind Trump.


The most perplexing thing for Rubio’s critics inside the GOP caucus, it seems, was him pressing Tillerson at the hearing to call Putin a “war criminal,” as there’s no easy way out of that answer for T-Rex. If he refused to use Rubio’s label, Rubio would have pounced with various examples of Russia attacking civilians in Aleppo, Grozny, and so on — which is exactly what happened. If he had agreed with Rubio that Putin is a war criminal, it’s obvious what Rubio would have said as a follow-up: Why did you accept the “order of friendship” from a war criminal? It’s … unusual to see a senator try to trap his own party’s nominee that way, and his colleagues noticed:

“When has a senator ever asked Hillary Clinton or John Kerry to put that label on a nuclear power,” the panel member said, referring to President Obama’s former and current secretaries of State.

The GOP lawmaker described it as a “gotcha” moment, questioning why someone in Trump’s party would try to force a nominee to take the bait.

“I was baffled,” the lawmaker added…

“Marco before the presidential campaign was very good on international and defense issues and I think he’s trying to get back to that,” remarked a GOP colleague. “He’s also getting a lot of attention for himself.”

In Rubio’s defense, the “war criminal” question was a perfect illustration of the point he was trying to make about “moral clarity.” His fear about Tillerson is that, as Secretary of State, he’ll end up effectively apologizing for regimes that commit massive human-rights violations in the interest of making a deal. The fact that T-Rex not only wouldn’t call Putin a war criminal but wouldn’t give Rubio a straight answer about what he thought happened in Aleppo and Grozny based on published reporting was him demonstrating, right out of the box, that he’s willing to lie by omission on behalf of Russia in the name of staying in Putin’s good graces. But that’s also why Rubio is in a jam now: Having proved that point so dramatically, he’s going to look awfully weak if he ends up holding his nose and voting for Tillerson anyway. One of the themes to the reporting on him this week is the question of how much Rubio really cares about this stuff. He’s a committed hawk, sure, but how much of the lecturing about “moral clarity” is purposeful and how much is just grandstanding, designed to burnish his “brand”? If he feels that deeply about clarity, he’s got to vote no on T-Rex. Doesn’t he? Or does the dream of being president someday, which means not pissing off your own base, trump all?


He’ll end up voting for him, of course. Or rather, he’ll vote for him if voting no would have the effect of sinking the nomination. One of the reasons he hasn’t announced his decision yet, I assume, is because he’s waiting to see if any Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee decide to vote yes. If that happens, Rubio’s vote will be meaningless; he can vote no, Tillerson will be confirmed, and Trump and everyone else who might have otherwise been pissed off at him won’t care. Democrat Cory Booker, another member of the committee, told Tillerson at the hearing that he expects he’ll be confirmed and that he looks forward to working with him. If he were to announce that he’s voting yes, Rubio won’t matter anymore, freeing him to vote his, er, conscience. Although it would be odd if Booker, who’s been so desperate to impress the left lately, decided to help one of Trump’s most prominent nominees get confirmed.

Another possibility is that McConnell already knows that he’ll have enough Republicans and red-state Democrats supporting Tillerson in the confirmation vote by the full Senate that it doesn’t much matter what Rubio’s committee does. If Rubio knows that too, it might also free him up to vote no — although he’ll probably make some enemies in the White House if Tillerson fails to get the committee’s recommendation, even if he’s eventually confirmed. Does Rubio want to risk pissing off Trump gratuitously? If it were me and I were thinking of taking a political risk by voting no, I’d at least want to know that my no vote would succeed in stopping the nomination. It seems highly unlikely that that’ll happen in Rubio’s case, though, in which case why not vote yes? Sure, Rubio skeptics will laugh at him for not having had the courage of his convictions, but so what? Those presidential dreams will still be alive and well. Or alive, at least.


Exit question via Democrat Chris Coons, wondering how much worse things can get: “I have frankly been reflecting on, if not Mr. Tillerson, who else might President-elect Trump choose?”

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