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Rubio’s Tillerson vote is why people don’t trust politicians

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Anybody watching Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing would have been mightily impressed by Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) questioning.

Rubio stunned and startled those in attendance by bluntly asking the CEO of Exxon Mobil this question: “Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?”

Tillerson, who has extensive business ties to the Russian president and has even received a “friendship” medal from him, was obviously not ready for that frontal salvo. “I would not use that term,” he replied, before Rubio launched into descriptions of Russian military attacks on civilians in Syria and Chechnya.

The senator then asked Tillerson again whether Putin was a war criminal.

Tillerson weakly responded that he needed “much more information before reaching that conclusion.”

{mosads}But Rubio would have none of it. Directing his gaze at Tillerson with the utmost concentration, he curtly said, “It should not be hard to say.” The senator then entered into the record a list of Russian political dissidents who were “suspiciously murdered or died under highly suspicious circumstances” before asking Tillerson whether he “believe[d] that Vladimir Putin and his cronies were responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents.”


Tillerson once again lamely searched for a response. “I do not have sufficient information to make that claim,” the oil executive replied.

Rubio concluded by memorably saying, “These people are dead.”

And Russia was not Rubio’s only target. He inquired about the thousands killed in police raids under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and also asked, “Is Saudi Arabia a human rights violator?”

To each and every question, Tillerson gave incomplete or evasive answers or fell back on his favorite line that he “needed more information.”

I detail all of this because it seemed pretty certain to anyone present that day that Rubio was extremely unsatisfied with Tillerson. His dissatisfaction bordered on disgust. If you were a betting person, it is safe to say that when it came down to voting, Rubio would surely and emphatically vote “no” in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But that was not what happened.

Rubio voted “yes” on Tillerson.

You have to understand something fundamental about Rubio: His actions rarely follow his words. The hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was just another venue for a performance. To Rubio, it’s all a show: Look and sound tough, but when it comes down to the final act, fold. Apparently, Rubio so desperately wants the attention and the sound bites and the headlines, he will do anything to get them.

But when it gets hot in the kitchen, he flees.

His political history is replete with examples of such duplicity, the immigration issue being the prime example. Before he ran for president, Rubio advocated a sensible and humane solution for immigration reform. But once he sensed that his views were out of step with GOP primary voters, he quickly abandoned them.

Rubio wants always to have it both ways. He desires to be viewed as independent and gutsy, but that’s not who he is — at all.

This is the same guy who was going to leave the U.S. Senate, but it seems the lure of the constant limelight was too much for him to give up. If Rubio were a serious person, he would have voted “no” on Tillerson in committee and then made his case against the nominee on the floor of the Senate.

If he had a scintilla of integrity, he would have sought to persuade and convince fellow Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to join him in denying Tillerson confirmation.

Rubio personifies why so many people distrust politics and politicians. Far too many don’t have the courage of their convictions.

When it comes to Sen. Rubio, he has convictions. But those convictions are permanently temporary.

Mark Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags confirmation Department of State Hearing John McCain Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Philippines Question Russia Saudi Arabia Senate Foreign Relations Committee State Department Syria vote war crime war criminal

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