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Absent No More, Rubio is All Senate Business

Back from the presidential campaign trail, the Florida Republican fights for Zika aid

Marco Rubio, left, and Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho, talk during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on  Syria. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Marco Rubio, left, and Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho, talk during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on  Syria. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Once derided as an absentee senator while running for president, Marco Rubio appears to be fully present for the stretch run of his time in the Senate.  

In the two months since suspending his White House campaign , the Florida Republican has met with international allies abroad, tangled with the White House over appointments and fought for such local concerns as hurricanes and dilapidated housing.  

Tuesday’s priority was Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that is already causing birth defects in children in South America and at least one death in Puerto Rico. Florida could well see a disproportionate impact.  

“You see the images coming from Brazil, you have seen the images coming of these children being born with microcephaly. This is a devastating condition …,” Rubio said Tuesday, as the Senate considered spending more than $1 billion to fight the virus. “Let’s try to prevent this, let’s try to get ahead of this. Let’s try not to just be reactive but proactive.”  

Rubio has said repeatedly he is not running for re-election this fall. Instead, he says he just wants to talk policy as his lone term winds down, and high on his to-do list was securing emergency supplemental money to combat Zika.  

He raised the issue at a news conference on Monday with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs in Orlando, where he pushed for the full $1.9 billion requested by the Obama administration, even as fellow Republicans in the House were suggesting about a third of that. The Senate ultimately agreed to move forward with a bipartisan $1.1 billion package on Tuesday.  

Rubio said he wasn’t concerned just about the mosquitoes arriving in Florida, but humans carrying the virus to his state, as well.  

“We also happen to be Florida, a place where people travel from all over the world,” Rubio said. “Particularly here in Central Florida. They’ll come from Brazil after the Olympics, they’ll come from everywhere.”  

The $1.9 billion supplemental spending amendment that he and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson really wanted fell 10 votes short of the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles.  

Beyond Zika, Rubio has been all over the map, literally and figuratively.  

Last week, the senator stopped in Jacksonville to visit subsidized housing with decrepit living conditions. He spent a recess week touring the Middle East, visiting allies and keeping up with his senatorial duties on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. A side note: He happened to be abroad when Donald Trump effectively clinched the GOP nomination.  

[Rubio in Mideast When Trump Closed the Deal]
Speaking after his return to Washington at a Hudson Institute event, Rubio said one big picture national security takeaway is that “we do not want ungoverned, chaotic spaces in the world.”  

He also said countries in the region were looking beyond the immediate question of defeating the terror group known as the Islamic State, with interest in longer-term challenges like how to handle Iran’s influence, what becomes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and what sort of groups emerge from the remains of ISIS.  

In Washington, Rubio negotiated an elaborate deal that allowed for the confirmation of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico in exchange for Venezuela sanctions and advancing a bill to rename a street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington. And he has served several stints as presiding officer of the Senate , a largely ceremonial role.  

[Inside Rubio’s Dealmaking on the Ambassador to Mexico]
Closer to his Miami home, Rubio visited the National Hurricane Center and is pushing a bill with Nelson there as well. The storm season starts June 1.  

“This legislation will help the National Hurricane Center continue to save lives as well as dollars. While it has been needlessly tied up by politics as usual, I nonetheless remain committed to finding a way forward and getting it passed this year,” Rubio wrote in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  

Asked about that stalled legislation on Tuesday, Nelson said it was not unlike the delays in getting emergency aid to fight Zika.”Out of sight, out of mind. We haven’t had a hurricane in Florida in well over 10 years,” Nelson said.  

Nelson, a Democrat and Florida’s senior senator, said Tuesday he has been able to work with his Republican counterpart on state business even when Rubio was racking up the missed votes while running for president.  

“Whether he was here or not, the two of us get along,” Nelson said. “We get things done.”  

Nelson pointed to the work the two have done to identify names of candidates for federal judgeships to submit to President Barack Obama. That’s a routine process that has not always worked in a bipartisan fashion in other states.  

The two men have said they would continue pushing for the full Zika aid, as well as for the legislation to address the ever-present hurricane threat.  

Above all, Rubio is present now. While seeking the nomination, he faced criticism about his frequent absences. In fact, in the eight weeks before he dropped out of the race, he made it to only three of 37 roll call votes. Since March 16, he hasn’t missed any of the 38 roll calls.  

All that time around the Capitol will give him ample opportunity to ponder his next move, and re-master the use of his own Twitter account.  

“Ok that’s enough for one night,” he wrote Monday night. “Twitter isn’t something you should just rush back into. You have to slowly increase the dosage.”  

David Hawkings contributed to this report.
Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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