Photo: Brett LoGiurato/Business Insider
For Florida Senator Marco Rubio, an afternoon discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York today served a two-fold purpose, as both a presumed audition for the vice presidential nod and a way to boost his own profile and credentials on a national stage. But in something of a twist, the two goals came into conflict today. Among a friendly crowd, Rubio was asked why he wasn’t as critical of President Barack Obama as his party’s nominee for president. He was asked why he doesn’t align with the GOP on some key foreign policy issues. He was even asked if he is “out of sync” with the Republican Party.
Throughout the talk, Rubio made something patently clear — he’s not going to be a so-called “attack dog” for Mitt Romney as his running mate. Not on foreign policy, at least.
“My debate is not just for the President. These issues in foreign policy aren’t always neatly Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal,” Rubio said. “I have people in my own party that I’ve had to argue with — both on the Senate floor and privately — about the role of America in the world.”
To the friendly, uptown crowd, Rubio was impressive — one attendee said afterward that he was a Republican who “actually sounded rational.” He is building himself as a Republican force on defence, national security and foreign affairs.
But if Republicans want an “attack dog” on the ticket this fall, they won’t find it in Rubio. He had opportunities to take direct hits on Obama on a listicle of issues — Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria, Libya, Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes, even the “Fast and Furious” scandal — but declined to take the bait at each step.
On Iran, he even admitted to “aligning with what the administration has said,” which is that military operations may be necessary if peace talks fall through. But he added that he believes “everything else will fail.”
At one point, he was even asked why his differences with Obama seemed “modest.” And he was asked if Romney, who constantly lays into Obama, is embellishing for political effect.
“I love these questions,” a joking — but somewhat frustrated — Rubio said.
Another point where Rubio made clear the break from some in his party was on the issue of foreign aid. During the question-and-answer session, one audience member asked him about his contrast in views with a fellow Republican member of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who has been at the forefront of cutting aid to foreign countries as a way to cut into the national debt. Rubio’s explained that he believes that the “human element” matters, and hit Ros-Lehtinen directly on the issue of the national debt.
“For us to argue that foreign aid is the reason the U.S. is running a budget deficit would be like someone going bankrupt saying they bought too much coffee at Starbucks,” Rubio said. “If we zeroed it out, you wouldn’t even notice it. … On the other hand, the payback of foreign aid is extraordinary.”
The CFR appearance was part of Rubio’s sharpening of his foreign policy credit in the last couple of months. On Tuesday, he traveled to Guantanamo Bay. He has laid out his own alternative of the Democrat-sponsored DREAM Act as something of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Before that was the speech at the Brookings Institute last month.
But Rubio brushed off VP speculation yet again today when moderator Richard Stengel asked him how “Vice President Rubio sounds.”
“I appreciate you trying to get that in there,” Rubio responded, laughing.
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