Rubio’s Revenge?

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Holding the Power: After taking insults from Donald Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, Florida Senator Marco Rubio now “holds the key vote on Trump’s nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. And he knows it.” Will he seek revenge?

The Florida Republican has the power to sink Rex Tillerson’s nomination for secretary of state and deal an early blow to a president-elect who belittled him a year ago.

By Russell Berman

Donald Trump lobbed all manner of insults at Marco Rubio when the two Republicans were rivals for the presidency. The Florida senator was, most memorably, “Liddle Marco” in the vernacular of the taller Trump. He mocked him for his profuse sweating, for his “really large ears,” for being no more than a typical D.C. politician. And to add injury to insult, Trump trounced Rubio in his home state’s primary and went on to win Florida in the general election with almost no help from its junior senator.

Now, however, it’s Rubio’s turn to make Trump sweat.

Just reelected to a second six-year term in the Senate, the 45-year-old holds the key vote on Trump’s nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. And he knows it.

Rubio sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, which must sign off on Tillerson before his nomination can go to the Senate floor for a final vote. The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, so if all the Democrats oppose Tillerson—which they very well might—the defection of just one Republican will be enough to stall, and probably sink, his chances of confirmation.

After questioning Tillerson more aggressively than any other Republican on the committee (and a few Democrats), Rubio came away clearly dissatisfied with some of the answersand undecided on his nomination. “This is a very important decision, and I recognize the partisan split on the committee and what it would all mean,” he told reporters after the hearing. “So I have to make sure I am 100 percent behind whatever decision that I make, because once I make it, it isn’t going to change.” Tillerson’s friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin and his past criticism of sanctions against Russia have raised concerns among senators in both parties. But it was Tillerson’s refusal to condemn Putin and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for war crimes and human rights abuses that particularly irked Rubio.

Asked by CNN’s Manu Raju whether he is prepared to be the one Republican to vote no, Rubio replied: “I’m prepared to do what’s right. I’m not analyzing it from a partisan perspective.”

Because of the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate, Rubio is one of several Republicans Trump denigrated on his way to the White House who are now in a position to thwart his agenda, or at least to exert leverage in ways that could make life for the president-elect uncomfortable. And those personal rifts may make their more serious differences on policy tougher to paper over. Senator John McCain of Arizona was an early target for Trump, who dismissed the ex-POW’s reputation as a war hero by saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” McCain, a longtime Russia hawk, has criticized Trump’s attitude toward Putin and is also undecided on the Tillerson nomination.

“I’m prepared to do what’s right. I’m not analyzing it from a partisan perspective.”

In the case of another former GOP presidential contender, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, it seems Trump isn’t done teasing. “I’ve been competing with him for a long time. He is going to crack that 1 percent barrier one day,” Trump joked during his press conference on Wednesday, making fun of Graham’s poor showing during the primaries last year. (He did add that Graham is “a nice guy”—or at least, he said, that’s what he’s heard from others.) Graham on Thursday morning praised Rubio’s line of questioning with Tillerson and said he shared his colleague’s concerns about the nominee’s responses. “When it comes to Russia, I want more clarity,” Graham said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We’ll see if he can clean up his answers.” As to Tillerson’s chances of confirmation, he said: “I think his nomination is salvageable from my point of view.”

Then there’s Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who began to make noise about potential Trump Cabinet picks shortly after the election. He vowed to oppose both Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton for secretary of state, citing their hawkish stances on U.S. military engagement abroad. Paul’s hard line could have effectively killed their chances because, like Rubio, he holds a potentially decisive vote on the Foreign Relations Committee. (He seems more favorable toward Tillerson and has reportedly said he’s leaning toward voting for him.) More recently, Paul has tried to upend the GOP leadership’s strategy on repealing the Affordable Care Act by voting against a budget resolution aimed at fast-tracking the legislation. He’s even appealed directly to Trump, boasting in a tweet that after speaking to him by phone, the president-elect “fully supports my plan to replace Obamacare the same day we repeal it.” Trump hasn’t acknowledged his conversation with Paul, and it’s not yet clear whether the Kentucky senator’s gambit will ultimately ease or complicate the party’s drive to repeal and replace the health law.

Aside from having all clashed with Trump last year, Rubio, McCain, and Paul have something else in common: They each secured another six-year term in November, meaning they won’t have to face voters again until after Trump runs for reelection in 2020. (Graham is up for reelection in 2020, too.) Their recent victories offer an extra measure of political protection from a Trump-inspired backlash, making it easier for them to oppose Trump as president even if he remains popular among Republicans. That dynamic doesn’t exist in the House, where Republican lawmakers have become increasingly sensitive to the possibility of a primary challenge every two years.

“Politically, if you’re in a ruby-red district, this is a president who’s going to be very difficult to oppose,” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a former head of the House GOP’s campaign arm, told me in a recent interview.

Rubio doesn’t have that worry, and even if he was on the ballot next year, he could point to the fact that his margin of victory in Florida was larger than Trump’s (although that was probably thanks to support from Democratic and Independent voters more than Republicans).

Political considerations, of course, would only be one factor in Rubio’s decision on whether to confirm Tillerson for a job that, as he told both the nominee and reporters, he considers to be the second most important in government, “with all due respect to the vice president.” Over three rounds of questioning on Wednesday, Rubio laid out a substantive case for the importance of human rights in foreign policy. He pressed Tillerson repeatedly to call out clear violations by Putin, Duterte, and by the government of Saudi Arabia in its treatment of women. In each case, Tillerson stopped short of issuing the unequivocal denunciations Rubio wanted, and at one point he called Tillerson’s reluctance to do so “discouraging.” When Rubio, citing the Russian-backed atrocities in Aleppo, asked him directly if Putin is a war criminal, Tillerson replied, “I would not use that term.”

The United States, Rubio told Tillerson near the end of the day-long hearing, needed to project “moral clarity” to the world. “We can’t achieve moral clarity with rhetorical ambiguity,” he said. Rubio then delivered an extended explanation of the questions he had asked Tillerson and why he felt so strongly about their importance for a candidate for secretary of state:

[The secretary of state] is the face of this country for billions of people, for hundreds of millions of people, as well, and particularly for people that are suffering and they’re hurting.

For those people, those 1,400 people in jail in China, those dissidents in Cuba, the girls that want to drive and go to school, they look to the United States. They look to us and often to the secretary of state. And when they see the United States is not prepared to stand up and say, “Yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal; Saudi Arabia violates human rights. We deal with these countries because they have the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet, because China is the second largest economy in the world. Because Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner in what’s happening in the Middle East. But we still condemn what they do.” It demoralizes these people all over the world, and it leads people to conclude this, which is damaging, and it hurt us during the Cold War, and that is this: America cares about democracy and freedom as long—as long as it’s not being violated by someone that they need for something else.

That cannot be who we are in the 21st century. We need a secretary of state that will fight for these principles. That’s why I asked you these questions. That’s why I ask those questions, because I believe it’s that important for the future of the world that America lead now more than ever.

Sensing that Rubio’s vote might be slipping away, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the committee, used his closing remarks to appeal to Tillerson’s critics to give him the benefit of the doubt on the issue of moral “clarity.” “Senators,” Corker said, “develop pretty strong opinions, and sometimes, we express those opinions in a very crisp, direct, strong manner, just to break through the clutter that we have to deal with to make a point.”

A nominee coming in, on the other hand, wants to make sure that he’s not getting out over his skis. He’s working for a president that he doesn’t know that well yet. He’s trying to accommodate the fact that in fact he’s going to be working in an interagency situation to come to conclusions. So I just hope that those things will be taken into account if there are questions about clarity.

Will Rubio actually torpedo Tillerson’s nomination? A day later, he wasn’t saying. “Senator Rubio is working through this process, and we don’t have anything to announce at this time,” spokesman Matt Wolking said. He wouldn’t say whether Rubio planned to meet with Tillerson again before deciding how to vote.

Democrats opposed to Tillerson circulated a video highlight reel of Rubio’s questioning. But they were also skeptical that Rubio, who endorsed Trump months after calling him “a con artist,” would have the political courage to cross the president-elect. “Let’s all fast-forward to the part where Rubio slinks into the Senate chamber to vote for Tillerson because Trump told him to,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former top adviser to President Obama.

Indeed, it would be no small thing for Rubio to oppose Tillerson knowing that he alone could sink his nomination. It would deal an embarrassing early blow to Trump, who said on Wednesday that he had assembled “one of the great Cabinets ever put together.” While nominees of every recent incoming president have had to withdraw for various reasons, the Senate hasn’t rejected a top Cabinet nominee since it failed to confirm John Tower, President George H. W. Bush’s pick for defense secretary, in 1989. Rubio’s opposition would surely provoke Trump. But it would remind the president-elect that even though he defeated and belittled “Liddle Marco” a year ago, he can’t take him for granted now.

Your Editor Muses: Insults hurt. And then, you never know,,,,

Trump Team’s Meeting With Latino Leaders Gets Mixed Reviews

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By Adrián Florido

It was billed as a “listening session,” a chance for Latino leaders from across the country to sit down with members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and talk about the issues important to them and to their constituents.

The invitation alone was notable, given the notoriously rocky relationship Trump has had with Latinos since the start of his campaign. Leaders of some of the largest Latino civil rights organizations have tried without success for more than a year to gain an audience with Trump or his team.

They finally got their wish on Tuesday. It was a breakthrough, but not everyone experienced it the same way.

According to some of those in attendance, there were more than 50 people in the room. A few were leaders of the country’s largest progressive advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. Many more represented conservative, evangelical, or pro-business organizations — groups like the LIBRE Initiative, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and regional Latino chambers of commerce.

“The listening session with Hispanic organizations was extremely well-attended and consisted of a wide ranging, frank discussion on areas of both agreement and concerns,” a Trump transition official said in an email to NPR. “This is the beginning of a conversation that will continue throughout the Trump administration. The Hispanic community will play a central role in our engagement going forward.”

But a big question for some in the room was this: Which Hispanic community?

Some of the attendees expressed concerns that the group convened by Trump’s team did not accurately reflect the nation’s broader Latino population or its priorities. They spoke with NPR on the condition that they not be named, given that it was an off-the-record gathering.

“Eighty percent of Latinos voted against Trump, so they probably didn’t share the same conservative leanings that these people around the table did,” a self-described progressive said, citing data from the polling firm Latino Decisions. “I think that when you put a focus on conservative organizations, you’re going to get the perspective of the conservative Latino community. I think they got that pretty good, but this was not a representative meeting of the larger Latino population.”

One progressive leader, attendees said, invited Trump’s team to come to a followup meeting to discuss what he called the “real policy priorities of Latino communities.”

According to several people who were in the room, the meeting played out this way:

Each person got roughly two minutes to talk about his or her organization’s priorities. Conservative leaders offered a range of views, with some expressing support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, for de-funding Planned Parenthood, and opposition to raising the federal minimum wage.

Some progressive leaders stressed the importance of protecting voting rights and health coverage for the millions of Americans who gained it under the Affordable Care Act. They voiced concerns about some of Trump’s political appointees, among other issues. Among the transition officials running the meeting were Mercedes Schlapp, a Fox News pundit and Trump supporter, Katrina Campins, a former contestant on The Apprentice, and Jennifer Korn of the Republican National Committee.

Laura Murillo, president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that the room “did lean heavier on the conservative side,” but she thought the meeting represented a good sampling of Latino views.

“That’s the Hispanic community,” she said. “We all differ. There’s not one organization, Hispanic or not, that represents all the views of this country. That was the important part of this meeting, that in fact, even among the Hispanic community, we have conservatives, moderates and independents.”

There were areas where most of the leaders agreed, sources said. There was general consensus among attendees that Trump should protect the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who are in the country illegally but whom President Obama has shielded from deportation through DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Leaders at the meeting also agreed on the need for broader immigration reforms and on the importance of having Trump nominate a Latino or Latina to his Cabinet.

And they universally denounced the rhetoric that Trump directed at Latinos during his campaign, saying that his tone toward them must change, according to several attendees.

“We want to make sure that we are part of this country’s fabric,” Murillo said, “and not just a thread.”

Your Editor Applauds: Talking to power persuasively

There is no Latino Goupthink

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While the number of Latino turnout went up, it only did slightly. Fifty percent of Latinos decided to stay home, clearly not enthused with either candidate for president, not just Trump.

By Alfonso Aguilar

Liberals have tried very hard to depict the Hispanic community as a monolithic group fully in sync with the agenda of the Left.  Not surprisingly, they assured us that Latinos were so offended by Donald Trump’s rhetoric and proposals on immigration that they would come out in massive numbers on November 8th to vote against him.

Yet, to their chagrin, this didn’t materialize.  While the number of Latino turnout went up, it only did slightly.  Fifty percent of Latinos decided to stay home, clearly not enthused with either candidate for president, not just Trump.  At the end, the aggressive efforts by the George Soros funded liberal Hispanic groups to turn out more Latino voters for Hillary failed abysmally.

More impressively, however, is that Donald Trump did better with Latino voters than Mitt Romney, receiving a significant 28 percent of the Latino vote.  Moreover, Latino support for Hillary Clinton went down to 66 percent compared to the 71 percent President Obama got in 2012.

Latinos cannot be typecast. They are independent-minded and, as other Americans, will embrace President Trump if he is successful in improving the economy and their quality of life and addressing many of the other issues they care about.

We shouldn’t be surprised by these results, however.  Contrary to what liberals have told us for so long, the Latino community is not homogenous.  Latinos have a wide variety of views and opinions, which is reflective of their great diversity.

Over half are foreign born or the children of immigrants, while the families of most of the rest have been in U.S. territory for generations.  Those who have recently arrived come from different countries in Latin America that have particular idiosyncrasies, not to say customs and traditions.

Race is not a common denominator either for the Latino community is an ethnic, not a racial group.  What binds us together is not race, but the cultural heritage of our countries of origin.  No less significant is the fact that there’s also substantial diversity in income levels within the Latino population.

Latinos, moreover, also share many of the same characteristics and views of some of the staunchest Republican constituencies. They are, for example, pro-life, church going, extremely entrepreneurial and very supportive of school choice.

Latinos are not, therefore, “natural-born Democrats” as some may think.  In fact, polls show that the majority of Hispanics don’t identify as Democratic or Republican, but rather as independent.

Nor is immigration the most important issue to them.  Like most Americans, they are primarily concerned with jobs and the economy.

Evidently, many were attracted by Mr. Trump’s call to restore America’s economic greatness and his commitment to create good paying jobs for working Americans.  As other Americans, Latinos are struggling to make ends meet.  The poverty rates of Latinos greatly exceed the national average and their wages are the lowest in the nation.

Hispanic liberal elites, nevertheless, are in denial.  They cannot accept that the Latino groupthink they have touted for decades simply doesn’t exist.

That’s why they reject the exit polling, saying it doesn’t properly poll Latinos and that support for Trump was actually much lower. Yet, Mark Hugo Lopez, a reputable pollster who heads Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center acknowledged in a recent interview with the Guardian that Trump may have outperformed Romney with Latinos, adding that “the diversity of the Hispanic electorate can explain some of these results.”

Having said all of this, we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the immigration issue for Latinos. It’s pretty obvious that Trump didn’t do better with them because the majority rejected his view and outlook on the issue.  However, if he is willing to deal with illegal immigrants in a constructive way during his first term, as he seems to be indicating, after he secures the border with Mexico and begins deporting those with criminal records, his support among Latino voters could realistically reach 40% or more in 2020.

What we can say for sure after this election is that Latinos cannot be typecast.  They are independent-minded and, as other Americans, will embrace President Trump if he is successful in improving the economy and their quality of life and addressing many of the other issues they care about.

Ironically, I’m one of those who didn’t support Trump over his comments and views over immigrants.  I ended up leaving the ballot blank.  But like many other Latinos, I have already put the election behind me and am ready to lend him my support to ensure we make America great again.

The author is the President of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the former Chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Your Editor Asks: Should Latinos then not listen before balloting?

President-elect Trump. You Can Reboot Your Relationship With Latinos

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By Manny Ruiz

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Dear President-elect Trump,

Over the course of this election cycle, I actively and strongly opposed you for saying and inciting things that I deemed detrimental against Latinos. Following your electoral victory, you said you wanted to become known as a president that unites our nation and that you aim to be everybody’s president.

Today I want to say that I am personally giving you a clean slate to reboot your relationship with the Latino community after what everyone can agree has been the most toxic election cycle in recent political memory.

As an American of Cuban Latino descent (yes, I am ALL THREE and not just one!) who is married to a Mexican-American, I want you to know that I want you to be super successful because your success would mean our nation is thriving and uniting.

Many of my friends in the communities of color I represent are gravely concerned about your presidency and whether this means you will use your presidential powers to strip our communities of our dignity and our rights, but I believe you have the opportunity to be successful and to win the whole nation over.

I can’t say it’s going to be easy. It’s going to take guts to make inroads into our communities but that’s one trait we all know you have. The fact that you almost single-handedly won this election without any of the traditional establishments of politics and media in your corner tells me that you can make unconventional, practical decisions and that many of your followers will listen.

In the spirit of unity, here are some ways you can be true to those who elected you while ALSO building bridges to many people of color:

Build the wall but create a path for citizenship for undocumented Latinos

This idea is very controversial for both border-obsessed conservatives and Latino progressives, but in many ways it is the perfect middle ground. If your administration moves forward with rumored deportations and no path to citizenship for undocumented Latinos — who, in many cases, have been living here for years — the human and psychological toll this will take on our community will be great. This is the No. 1 apocalyptic fear Latinos see with your presidency.

I want to appeal to you to consider the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the same president who you say you admired and whose campaign also inspired your slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Reagan endeared himself to millions of Latinos when he authorized a path to citizenship for them in the early ’80s, and I am certain that over the course of your presidency you and your Republican Party can take action on the immigration issue to convert many Latinos to your party, accomplishing something your Democratic counterparts never did.

It is reasonable to say that this path should not be available for undocumented Hispanics who committed any crimes, that criminals be immediately deported and that citizenship include some of the bipartisan fines and timelines that have previously been discussed by members of both parties in Congress.

In this context, if you build the wall that you promised your voters you would create, it will have been built for people who have not yet tried to cross the border and will not impact families that right now could feel totally displaced.

Create a national task force to address police brutality

Those of us who have family who work in the line of duty know that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good people with dangerous jobs. Police work is violent and volatile, and it is wrong to demonize the professionals who sacrifice their lives daily to serve and to protect.

That said, there are some rogue cops who are literally getting away with murdering unarmed African-Americans, and the black and Latino communities are justifiably hurting and angry.

Mr. Trump, Rudy Giuliani is a specialist in making communities safer and stronger. It would be impressive for someone like Giuliani to be the one who initiates the dialogue with the African-American community and who, together with minority communities, police leaders and the Justice Department, establishes new standards that improve what is now a very volatile situation.

Bring people of color into your administration

America is a diverse nation and you yourself have said that you have a history of employing many people of color. Make your administration one that is inclusive with political outsiders and insiders alike that reflect our diversity and can inform your ideas and policies.

I am not saying this because it is the politically correct thing to do. I am saying this because it is the right, smart and truly unifying thing to do. It will also boost your party’s position at a time when many people of color are convinced Republicans don’t want to be inclusive.

Actively engage Latino and African American media

It is 100% true that both media and social media organizations from diverse communities vehemently opposed you. Rehashing why and what happened is pointless on both sides of this situation. As a leader in the Hispanic and multicultural media industry I urge you to reach out to us and meet us so we can build a dialogue that is productive and unifying. People like me will probably not see eye to eye with you on everything you’d like us to, but I am convinced that over time we can find a way to agree to disagree.

Proactively disavow people who hate people of color

In every community and political party there are always going to be weirdos and haters. In this election, we unfortunately saw those like David Duke and the KKK who openly and stridently embraced your candidacy. We know you did not ask for their endorsement and that in fact you later condemned them, but in the future, please consider doing so more quickly.

Also think about how you can use your words (or Twitter!) to indicate your support for our nation’s diverse communities, including Muslim-Americans. It may seem trivial, but it is not. These are the optics by which our communities of color interpret where you stand in relation to us. Racism is real.

Don’t give up

Finally, please know that the post-election wounds and fears our communities of color feel are raw and real. Even writing this open letter to you can get me in trouble because many of us right now are blinded by our fears.

Some protests and even civil disturbances are going to ensue in the coming days or weeks purely based on things you said or did during the campaign. My message to you is to put these ideas into motions, let your actions speak louder than your tweets and persevere.

These suggestions are not the be-all and end-all, but I do believe they cover the most burning things you need to tackle to strengthen your connection with our communities of color. If you consider these ideas seriously and prayerfully as the leader you say you want to be, I am certain that you will prevail, building a presidency that could truly be legacy-making.

Don’t give up, because that is the only way you will unite the nation. That is the only way you will “make America great again.”

Wishing you much success,

Your Editor Concurs: Let’s participate

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