Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) on Tuesday spoke out against regulations on the so-called “gig economy,” frequently praising companies like Uber and Airbnb as revolutionary businesses that are needlessly hampered by the federal government.
“The American economy is fundamentally transforming. Uber didn’t even exist when our current president was sworn in. Today it’s worth $US51 billion,” Rubio, a presidential candidate, said during a speech Tuesday in front of tech industry workers in New York.
“The American people have chosen an economy in which the most valuable retailer in America, Amazon, owns not a single store. The largest transportation company, Uber, owns not a single vehicle.”
Rubio — who dedicated an entire chapter of his recent book to how to make the regulatory environment friendlier for Uber — also took a direct swipe at the New York City taxi industry. At one point, he apologised for continuing to bring up Uber throughout the speech, which dealt with the sharing economy in general.
“These companies are also the victims of a coordinated attack from established businesses, which influence the political process to pass new regulations that block competition. We’ve seen this play out with taxi companies lobbying to stop Uber,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s speech is part of a larger theme of Republicans attempting to use “gig-economy” companies as a wedge between Democrats and the tech industry. It comes as Rubio has surged in GOP primary polls after the second presidential debate last month.
The industry has generally leaned left for years, donating heavily to Democratic candidates. But as some companies like Airbnb and Uber have butted heads with local governments over proposed regulations, Republicans have positioned themselves squarely on the side of sharing-economy companies.
In his speech on Tuesday, Rubio said that he’d met with a high-profile tech CEO who asked Rubio not to mention his name out of “fear” of retribution from the federal government and competitors.
“I met the CEO of an on-demand startup a few weeks back who asked that I not mention his business today out of fear that it would attract attention from legislators, lawyers, and competitors,” Rubio said. “What does that say? Do we want America to be a place where honest, innovative businesses have to hide to succeed?”
Rubio also suggested there should be a third worker-tax classification beyond W2 employees and 1099 contractors that would take into account people who work with services like Airbnb and the cleaning service Handy.
But despite a fairly warm reception, Rubio also encountered the limits of his pro-sharing economy message at Civic Hall in New York.
Confronted at one point by a taxi driver who said it was unfair for Uber to undercut his business, Rubio said that while it was “unfortunate” that cab drivers were facing a competitor, that’s the result of innovation.
“I think [Uber] is a totally different business model. It’s not the same as a taxicab,” Rubio said.
“Every time we have had economic restructuring in this country, it has displaced some people,” he added. And our obligation is to ensure that people who have been displaced can quickly access the benefits of the new economy and the new innovation. … Any effort to stand in the way of innovation it’s counter-productive,” Rubio said.
Rubio also faced questions from several immigrants living in the US illegally who work in the tech industry, who said the industry could benefit from the skills brought by many immigrants who come to the US illegally.
Chris Mercado, who said he works at the start-up Grant Answers, told Business Insider after the speech that he was not impressed with Rubio’s opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that enjoys support from high-profile tech leaders like Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Rubio is far from the first Republican presidential candidate to attempt to woo companies like Uber. Earlier this year, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) publicized his Uber ride to a campaign event in San Francisco. Both Bush and Rubio have adopted tech buzzwords, frequently praising companies that “disrupt” traditional business models.
But Bush faced similar scepticism that Rubio was presented with during Tuesday’s event. Asked who he was supporting for president, Munir Algazaly, Bush’s Uber driver, told Time magazine that he’ll probably support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.