Marco Rubio had just stepped off the plane from his first visit to Cuba, the homeland of his forebears, a land at the heart of his political identity.
Did he at least bring back a souvenir?
“No,” he said Tuesday evening.
No sand? No water? No rocks?
“No,” he smiled.
For Rubio, who traveled to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, the trip was all business. And that’s pretty typical for the Republican freshmen senator, according to colleagues like Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and Rubio’s fellow foreign-policy hawk Sen. Joe Lieberman.
“Marco’s not a show horse,” Lieberman said. “He’s a workhorse.”
One day he’ll be giving a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington or the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday. Next, he’ll be lugging Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy” tome to a Munich conference, stopping along the way in Madrid to chat with Spain’s prime minister in Spanish as his unilingual Anglo colleagues twiddle their thumbs. He also has travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malta, Libya, Haiti and Colombia.
The nation’s political chattering class focuses most heavily on Rubio as a vice-presidential shortlister, but his Senate colleagues can’t help but talk about him becoming a key foreign-policy player as a member of the intelligence and foreign-relations committees.
Lieberman and Kerry are Senate experts both in foreign policy and running in a presidential election. Kerry was the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004; Lieberman the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate in 2000 before becoming an independent.
Both say Rubio is able to handle the rigors of the national campaign trail and the Senate at the same time.
“I’ve been impressed by his thinking — doing the homework necessary to earn the credibility with respect to your approach to things. I think that’s constructive,” Kerry said.
“A lot of the colleagues around here, obviously, are interested in substance and interested in people who do the work and are not impressed by people who are prone to play the political end of something and hold a press conference and not do the work,” Kerry said. “They want to see someone buckle down and learn the ropes. And I think he’s clearly been doing that in a very positive way.”
Rubio, though, still adheres to the party line.
His praise of President Obama is sparse — even amid seeming foreign-policy triumphs like the overthrow and death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October. At the time, Rubio and other Republicans gave Obama relatively little credit.
“Let’s give credit where credit is due: it’s the French and the British that led on this fight,” Rubio, echoing the Republican Party line, said at the time in a video clip mocked by The Daily Show’s John Stewart, who essentially accused Rubio and others of being neither gracious nor statesman like.
Asked Stewart: “What the f--- is wrong with you people? Are you that small?”
When asked about the lampooning on the popular liberal comedy show, Rubio said he stood by his criticisms, which were aimed more at Obama for not acting more quickly and decisively.