Crises in Ukraine, Venezuela put Florida Sen. Marco Rubio back in spotlight

The crisis in Crimea and the violence in Venezuela are making Marco Rubio a hot ticket again on cable news.

Having faded somewhat from view after the conservative blowback over his immigration bill, Florida’s Republican senator is back to being a must-book for the 24-hour news beast, in great part because of his role on the Senate’s foreign relations committee.

Rubio called on the Obama administration to further “isolate” Russia for its invasion of Ukrainian-held Crimea, suggested the U.S. should help bolster Ukraine’s military capabality as well as its government, and urged a restart of a missle-defense shield plan that has troubled Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union for decades.

“You’re dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it’s very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way,” Rubio told NBC’s Meet The Press host David Gregory.

Asked whether Russia is a U.S. enemy, Rubio essentially said yes.

“I think they’re increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms. If you look after the end of World War II and certainly through the Cold War era, the spread of democracy and freedom and established norms for nations to interact with one another so we would never have another world war, Russia, under this President Putin, does not seem interested in any of that. So they are an enemy of that. And they are certainly, as it regards to that, an enemy of the United States with regard to those things I just outlined. And if you look at the positions they’ve taken, on issue after issue, Russia has been an obstacle to U.S. national interests.”

Rubio also wants sanctions on Venezeula for suppressing protests:

“First, I think we need to clearly pronounce ourselves as more than just ‘concerned’ about what’s happening in Venezuela. We need to say very clearly the United States, and its people and its government are firmly on the side of the ambitions and desires — the rightful desires — of the people in the streets, the students and young people protesting against these violations. Beyond that, I would like to see specific U.S. sanctions against individuals in the [Nicolás] Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions. I think those two steps would go a long way in that regard.”

Asked about the toll that immigration reform had on his political standing in the GOP, Rubio said he figured it would be tough and then said he had no political calculations in backing the reform efforts.

Rubio also fell somewhat in the middle over Arizona’s controversial gay-rights vs. religious-rights bill vetoed by the state’s Gov. Jan Brewer. Rubio said gays shouldn’t be discriminated against. But he also expressed discomfort with laws that would, say, punish professionals who, because of their religious sensibilities, don’t want to photograph gay weddings.

“Well, I don’t believe that gay Americans should be denied services at a restaurant or hotel or anything of that nature. I also don’t believe, however, that a caterer or photographer should be punished by the state for refusing to provide services for a gay wedding because of their religious-held beliefs. We’ve got to figure out a way to protect that, as well.”

The Democratic National Committee highlighted those comments in an email, saying “Rubio once again tried to placate both sides of the issue. Rubio’s position and record are crystal clear — he believes that some businesses should legally be able to discriminate against Americans just because of who they are. … This isn’t the first time Rubio has said that he thinks some businesses should be able to legally discriminate against other Americans. Last year, Rubio joined with numerous other Republicans to co-sponsor federal legislation similar to the Arizona bill.”