Presidential Hopefuls: Marco Rubio
The Florida senator — who if elected would be the second Catholic president — is solidly pro-life but has faced GOP criticism over immigration and economic policy.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of Register articles profiling the leading presidential candidates in the 2016 election campaign. The Register has also profiled Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
WASHINGTON — When Sen. Marco Rubio served as the keynote speaker at a Susan B. Anthony List dinner, one of the most important annual pro-life public events in Washington, the Florida Republican and now GOP presidential candidate issued a challenge to the pro-life community.
“In giving the keynote speech at our annual gala in 2012,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser recalled, “Sen. Rubio said, ‘The right to life is a fundamental one that trumps virtually any other right that I can imagine.’
“He asked us to remind him of that speech if he ever faltered in defending life. No reminder has been necessary. He continues to boldly speak out in defense of life, which he has called a definitional issue. He has proudly held to his pro-life position throughout this campaign and, if given the chance, will use it to go on offense against the Democratic nominee.”
Rubio has a 100% score on the National Right to Life Committee’s scorecard of voting records for elected officials. He was a co-sponsor of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
When asked about his rejection of an exception in the case of rape by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the senator replied, “I believe a human being, an unborn child, has a right to live irrespective of the circumstances by which they were conceived.”
He went on to explain to Stephanopoulos, “Abortion, to me, is not a political issue; it’s a human-rights issue. I have supported laws that have exceptions, the 20-week abortion ban.”
“I do require an exception for life of the mother because I’m pro-life,” Rubio continued. “If they pass a law in Congress that has exceptions, I’ll sign it because I want to save lives.”
“The broader point I’ve made, however, is I believe all human life is worthy of the protection of our laws,” the senator said. “That’s what I deeply and personally believe. And I’m not going to change my position on something of — that is so deep in me — in order to win an election.”
Despite an Internet rumor to the contrary, Rubio has consistently voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Rubio has said that, if elected to the presidency, he immediately would reinstitute the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal money going to any international non-governmental organization that promotes or performs abortions.
Rubio also opposes same-sex “marriage.”
“We’ve worked with Sen. Rubio, and he has done robocalls for us supporting the cause of marriage,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which opposes same-sex “marriage.” Nevertheless, NOM has endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, because, unlike Rubio, Cruz signed NOM’s five-point pledge.
Brown said that Rubio did not sign the NOM pledge because it calls for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage. Rubio, he said, would prefer other methods, such as the appointment of judges to support marriage; and “in general he doesn’t want to change the Constitution and doesn’t think the amendment would pass.”
Economics: Straddling a Divide
On the economic front, Rubio’s proposals essentially straddle a traditional Republican divide by embracing two strains of thought. Alan Viard, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said that, while some Republicans emphasize growth through easing tax burdens, others focus on pro-family economic initiatives. “Rubio’s does both,” Viard said.
The pro-growth part of Rubio’s plan would consist of cutting taxes for both business and individuals. Businesses would not be subject to double taxation on income earned abroad. The top business tax would be 25%, and corporations could immediately expense purchases of equipment and other capital expenditures.
Taxes on capital gains, dividends and the death tax would be eliminated. Rubio would consolidate the current seven tax brackets for individuals into three marginal tax rates of 15%, 25% and 35%. Rubio’s top marginal tax rate is higher than Donald Trump’s 25% or Cruz’s flat tax rate of 10% on ordinary income. The top marginal tax rate for 2015 was 39.6%.
“Those taxes are the only taxes people who spend and don’t save have ever paid, so it would be fine for them,” Viard said.
“I like the basic structure of the Rubio plan,” Viard said. “It’s not perfect. There would be a large revenue deficit, and he would have to revise to get rid of that revenue loss.”
“Too often in recent years, through both economic and social policy, Washington has tried to compete with families rather than support and defend them. It has left American families weaker than they once were, and the institutions that teach values and support families, such as churches and civil society groups, are ailing, too,” Rubio says on his website.
Rubio would seek to support families by ending the marriage penalty, encouraging companies to adopt paid family-leave practices through incentives (but not mandated through legislation) and a new child credit of $2,500.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who put the price tag for that child credit at $1 trillion, called the proposal a “new welfare program” because families that do not pay federal income taxes would also receive the child “refund.”
A former rival for the Republican nomination, Paul said of the child credit during last November’s GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee, “We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative. Is it fiscally conservative to have a trillion-dollar expenditure? We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money. [Rubio is] talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment.”
Calling Paul “helpful” in pointing out the problems with Rubio’s child credit during the debate, The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call the proposal an “expensive political pander.”
Economics writer and president of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation Amity Schlaes and Matthew Denhart, executive director of the Coolidge foundation, charged in National Review that it is the child credit that forced Rubio to set his top marginal tax rate at 35%. Mitt Romney’s was 28%. They maintain that if Rubio had proposed a top marginal tax rate of 20% he would have more room to negotiate.
But, according to the Washington Examiner, the non-partisan Tax Foundation estimated that, taken with Rubio’s other tax proposals, the credit would cost $414 billion a year but would trigger 15% growth in the economy over 10 years.
Rubio would not make changes in Social Security for those who are already on the program or soon will be, but would gradually raise the retirement age to take into consideration increased life expectancy. He would reduce benefits for upper-income Americans and transition Medicare into a premium-support system. This system would provide to older Americans a fixed amount from which to purchase health coverage, which could be chosen from Medicare or a private insurer.
The repeal and replacement of Obamacare has been a rallying cry for Republicans since the massive system was voted in at the beginning of the Obama administration. Rubio can rightfully claim credit for actually doing something to rollback Obamacare. Rubio targeted a little-known provision in Obamacare that made taxpayers liable for losses by insurance companies.
Health-care specialist (and Rubio adviser) Avik Roy credits Rubio’s warnings about Obamacare’s risk corridors with making what Roy calls a “slush fund” for insurance companies such a hot issue that Congress inserted a provision into a bill saying that taxpayers would not be on the hook.
As anybody who has been following the 2016 campaign knows, one of the most emotional issues is immigration. Rubio has come under intense attack from Cruz — who, like Rubio, has immigrant Cuban roots — because of his participation in the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration bill. Rubio joined with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to draft a comprehensive reform of immigration policies.
Rubio reportedly lobbied for a more restrictive path to citizenship than the final bill included. For example, Rubio, according to published reports, wanted to require an English proficiency test and a longer period before illegal immigrants could become citizens. Rubio originally supported the bill but beat a retreat under intense criticism from fellow Republicans.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank, remains critical of Rubio’s stance on immigration. He argues that, on being asked about his current position on immigration during a GOP debate, Rubio responded with “a flow of words that had nothing to do with the question.”
Rubio has stressed that enforcement of immigration laws and strengthening the borders is essential to his program, but Krikorian has called him “merely an election-year immigration hawk.”
Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of Immigration Works, whose positions on immigration are opposite of Krikorian’s, admits that she too has a hard time pinpointing Rubio’s position right now. But she feels that he is important in a GOP climate of “dangerous orthodoxy” that speaks often only in the language of enforcement and deportation. Jacoby points out that Rubio’s website still calls for immigration reform.
And she loved it when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Rubio endorser, stood on the stage with Rubio and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, an African-American, on Feb. 18, two days before the South Carolina Republican primary. “Take a picture of this,” she instructed the crowd and the cameras. “Because the new group of conservatives taking over America looks like a Benetton commercial!”
On foreign policy, Rubio emphasizes American strength as “a means of preventing war, not promoting it.” He would reverse the sequester (automatic spending caps that limit domestic and military spending), in order to modernize the armed forces.
Rubio says that it is important to “call the source of atrocities in the Middle East by its real name: radical Islam.”
As the son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio, not surprisingly, is critical of President Obama’s new policy towards Cuba, which he regards as “nothing more than unilateral concessions from the United States that will strengthen the brutal Castro regime and do nothing to help free the Cuban people.” He would aim to undo some of these “unilateral concessions” and opposes sending a U.S. ambassador to Cuba. And he would hold hearings to determine the Castro government’s failure to uphold promises it made to normalize relations with Cuba.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, said, “Both Rubio and Cruz seek to embrace the mantle of Reagan rather than Bush. The biggest differences may be in the extent to which either would enhance the military budget. Both suggest they would, but Cruz has supported some cutbacks in the past. Cruz also seems more inclined than Rubio to differentiate between dictators’ abuses of human-rights vs. core U.S. national security interests.
Added Rubin, “I guess you could say Rubio leans more neoconservative, Cruz leans more realist, but both recognize, in contrast to President Obama, that the path to peace lies through strength, that enemies are seldom sincere in their diplomacy and that multilateral institutions are seldom effective guarantors of peace or security.”
Rubio’s Catholic Faith
If Rubio becomes president, he’ll be the second Catholic president — albeit one with an interesting trajectory. Rubio’s Cuban immigrant parents had him baptized a Catholic as an infant. Later, while living in Nevada, Rubio’s mother reportedly felt that the large Mormon population added a wholesome atmosphere and had her son baptized as a Mormon. Rubio and his wife, Jeannette, for a while mostly attended Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation, which he still visits.
But it was not enough for Rubio. He wrote in his memoir: “I craved, literally, the Most Blessed Sacrament, holy Communion, the sacramental point of contact between the Catholic and the liturgy of heaven. I wondered why there couldn’t be a church that offered both a powerful, contemporary Gospel message and the actual body and blood of Jesus.”
Rubio embarked on a study of the Catholic faith, including reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, late in 2004. Today, he attends a Catholic church. He and his family often go to Mass before presidential debates and other important events.
Rubio continues to reference his faith frequently. As he told the magazine Christianity Today, in a 2012 interview that is highlighted on his campaign website, “If our faith influences every aspect of our lives, then if we decide to become politically active, it should influence that as well.”
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.