Rubio: Coronavirus conspiracy theories could be used in foreign election misinformation campaigns

Rubio: Coronavirus conspiracy theories could be used in foreign election misinformation campaigns
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE (R-Fla.) said Tuesday that foreign actors could use conspiracy theories about the coronavirus to amplify election interference.

“I think the COVID-19 crisis is one in which you’ve seen efforts to promote false narratives that drive some of the friction in this country,” Rubio, the newly-minted chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Rubio told the AP conspiracy theories likely to be amplified included those about a potential vaccine against the virus once one is developed.

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“I’m not sure that we’re any less vulnerable than we once were” in 2016, Rubio added.

The Florida Republican added that he could not discuss specifics of his briefings as chairman but said that Russia's election interference has “succeeded far beyond [President Vladimir] Putin’s wildest dreams” by exploiting a combination of political polarization and conspiracy theories.

“The goal is to keep you so divided and fighting with each other that you become dysfunctional and unable to respond to the threat,” he said.

Rubio said China’s government was taking advantage of similar dynamics to minimize its own role in the pandemic. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March promoted a conspiracy theory that the U.S. military brought the virus to the city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have originated.

The senator has historically been a closer ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE's than his predecessor, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Biden campaign adds staff in three battleground states Exclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? MORE (R-N.C.), who temporarily stepped down due to an investigation into stock trades he made earlier in the year. Rubio told the AP that he considers Trump’s personal response to the virus less of an issue than the U.S. improving its readiness for the virus.

“I would prefer the president wear a mask for his own good. I don’t want to see the president be infected,” Rubio said. “But ultimately, in the order of priorities, I think what’s more important is that we develop an antiviral, that we develop rapid testing, that our health care systems never become overwhelmed, that we have the ability to test people.”