Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Rightward shift


OUR OPINION: Sen. Rubio’s increasingly partisan political agenda disappoints

It was disappointing to see Sen. Marco Rubio among the 36-member minority as the Senate approved a budget deal that could avert another government shutdown. Yet it wasn’t surprising: After coming under a hail of criticism from tea party hard-liners earlier this year for crafting a strong immigration-reform package, the Miami senator has taken a sharp turn to the right to regain conservative support.

This is doubly disappointing from a lawmaker who once declared that he ran for office because “I want to solve problems.” Congress’ inability to pass a budget up to now is a glaring symptom of the dysfunction that represents the biggest problem in Washington.

The deal was good enough to win the support of nine Republicans, including prominent conservatives like Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Arizona’s John McCain. They chose to put aside political gamesmanship, but Mr. Rubio seems to have other priorities.

He told Fox News that the measure “doesn’t seriously deal with the debt.” Granted. But given the alternative — another pointless cliff-hanger over keeping the government open — approval of the budget was the sensible thing to do.

The senator’s choice on this key vote adds to the impression that, halfway through his six-year term, his desire to be a problem solver is taking a back seat to his presidential aspirations.

That might explain the senator’s turnabout on immigration. He was one of the architects of the Senate’s comprehensive reform plan, explaining his position in a Wall Street Journal essay: “I ran for office because I want to solve problems, and America has a very serious immigration problem.”

Moderation didn’t sit well with his formerly adoring tea party supporters. Mr. Rubio backed away from his own plan in favor of a less-promising piecemeal approach that doesn’t include a path to citizenship. His spokesmen say this is only a bow to reality, but it left reform advocates crestfallen.

Later, Mr. Rubio embraced the failed effort to block funding of the new healthcare law, which led to the government shutdown. But that did not stop him from accepting a $10,000 federal subsidy that comes with the plan, although some fellow Republicans rejected it as a “special deal.”

In November, Sen. Rubio voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, saying he objected to certain new provisions in the bill. And he made common cause with the right-wing minority again when the Senate voted to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, saying it would lead to “frivolous lawsuits.”

None of these proposals is perfect, but that is the nature of legislation, as Mr. Rubio well knows from his days as Speaker of the House in the Legislature. Yet he consistently seems to tailor his votes to suit a narrow partisan base.

The nomination of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas to fill a federal judicial vacancy is illustrative. Mr. Thomas, if confirmed, would become the first openly gay black man to serve on a federal bench. After first recommending him, Sen. Rubio withdrew support, citing concern over two rulings — even though a prosecutor whom the judge ruled against in one case wrote the senator in support of Judge Thomas. Mr. Rubio’s office points out that he has supported some of President Obama’s judicial picks; critics say opposition to Judge Thomas is rooted in anti-gay politics.

As 2016 approaches, the presidential campaign will pick up speed. Given Sen. Rubio’s obvious political appeal, he should be a strong contender for his party’s nomination if he chooses to run, but his political calculus should not require support for an agenda that does not fit the needs of a large, diverse state like Florida.

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