Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-Fla.) is back in the spotlight, with lawmakers in both parties wondering whether he’ll break with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE and vote against the president-elect's pick to lead the State Department.
If Rubio votes against Rex Tillerson in the Foreign Relations Committee, it would prevent the GOP from moving the nomination to the floor with a favorable recommendation.
That risks a confrontation with Trump, who disparaged Rubio in the most personal of terms in the GOP presidential primary last year.
Rubio declined to say Thursday how he would vote or even when he would make a decision.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he told reporters.
Fighting with Trump over Tillerson gives Rubio, who many think could run for president against some day, a chance to stand out against his colleagues.
Every other GOP senator is expected to vote for Tillerson, who has backing from some of the most influential Republican voices on international affairs: former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
But the relative unanimity of GOP support for Tillerson could also backfire on Rubio. It’s why some think he’ll end up voting for Tillerson in the end.
“At the end of the day I think he votes for him. That’s a big obligation for Marco to take upon himself, to be the only Republican senator to vote against Tillerson and to say all your Republican colleagues are wrong,” one Republican senator said.
One GOP member of the Foreign Relations Committee expressed surprise in an interview at Rubio’s aggressiveness during Wednesday’s hearing.
Rubio pressed Tillerson to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, and to name the government of Saudi Arabia as a human rights violator.
“When has a senator ever asked Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE or John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space 12 top U.S. officials to join Biden at major climate conference MORE to put that label on a nuclear power,” the panel member said, referring to President Obama’s former and current secretaries of State.
The GOP lawmaker described it as a “gotcha” moment, questioning why someone in Trump’s party would try to force a nominee to take the bait.
“I was baffled,” the lawmaker added.
Rubio has kept a relatively low profile since dropping out of the Republican presidential primary and coming close to resigning his Senate seat. He ran for a second term only after personal intervention by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE (R-Ky.).
Before his failed presidential bid, Rubio was seen as the brightest rising star in the Senate. A good number of colleagues saw him early on as the favorite to challenge Clinton for the presidency.
Rubio developed a reputation in the Senate as a budding expert on international relations and national security.
Colleagues think he’s trying to remind members of his position within the Senate GOP conference by taking a leading role in scrutinizing Tillerson — and buffing up his national name identification in the process.
“Marco before the presidential campaign was very good on international and defense issues and I think he’s trying to get back to that,” remarked a GOP colleague. “He’s also getting a lot of attention for himself.”
But the senator warned that Rubio could wind up derailing his bid to reassert himself by breaking with his party on such a significant question, especially when leading lights such as Baker, Rice and Gates are solidly behind Tillerson.
Losing Rubio — the third-ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee — would mean that while McConnell could still move Tillerson to the floor, he couldn’t do so with a favorable recommendation because Republicans have only a one-seat advantage on the panel.
Some Republican strategists thought that Rubio shot himself in the foot during the presidential primary by trading personal insults with Trump in a last-ditch effort to save his flailing campaign.
Rubio teased Trump about the size of his hands, telling supporters, “I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5’2”. Have you seen his hands?”
Trump responded at a presidential debate in Detroit by declaring, “He referred to my hands, if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem.”
Rubio ended up on the losing end after his running skirmish with Trump, who called him Little Marco, Robot Rubio, a lightweight and mocked his ears “as the biggest ears I’ve ever seen.”
Rubio says he’s not afraid of getting flamed by Trump again.
“I’m not worried, just doing my job,” he said.
Tillerson received positive reviews from other Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee, including chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.), after he testified for more than nine hours without notes.
“If you look at the length of time he’s been involved in these kinds of issues, the length of the hearing… I thought he handled himself very well,” Corker said.
He said Tillerson has “a passion for people around the world and a concern for their wellbeing.”
Corker said that as the likely next secretary of State, he had to be careful not to poison the atmosphere of his first meeting with Putin by stating in a hearing that Putin is a war criminal.
He said “he was probably thinking about his first encounters with these people down the road.”
“I thought he was being prudent in his responses,” he added of Tillerson.