One of the biggest moments of the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., was the sparring between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio over Rubio’s missed Senate votes.
“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term. And you should be showing up to work,” Bush said to Rubio. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida, as well. They’re looking for a senator who will fight for them each and every day.”
“I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record,” Rubio shot back, noting that Bush has said he will model his campaign after McCain’s 2008 bid. “The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
That was the most memorable exchange of the night, and pretty much everyone will tell you that Rubio emerged victorious. But even though Rubio won the rhetorical face-off, the argument raised against his absences in the Senate is valid. Should Rubio resign if he is going to spend more time campaigning than representing his constituents?
The Sun-Sentinel believes that Rubio should give up his position. The paper published an editorial on Oct. 27 with the headline “Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off.” (The Sun-Sentinel endorsed Rubio during his 2010 Senate campaign.) The newspaper was critical of Rubio missing nearly 34 percent of his Senate votes, despite being paid $174,000 per year plus a $10,000 federal subsidy to put toward a health plan offered through the Affordable Care Act, which Rubio opposes.
Rubio has pointed to other presidential candidates who have missed Senate votes during primary season: McCain (55.9 percent in 2007), President Obama (37.6 percent in 2007) and John Kerry (64.1 percent in 2003). But during this current election cycle, Rubio has missed the most votes of any campaigning senator. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has missed 26.9 percent of his votes; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 23.8 percent; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 4.8 percent; and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 3.4 percent.
The problem here seems to be more than presidential hopefuls simply using the U.S. Senate as a launch pad to a presidential campaign, and they’re wasting little time once being elected to kick start their presidential ambitions.
Rubio and Paul were both elected in 2010. Cruz was elected in 2012. All three were Tea Party darlings, and all three are now running for president before completing their first Senate terms. They are not the first senators to run for president in the middle of their first term. They wouldn’t be the first to win while doing so, either. President Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, before running for president in 2008.
But: Just because it’s been done before does not mean it’s the right thing to do. Senators owe it to their constituents to cast votes and keep their current position in mind, rather than constantly looking to the future. Sens. Paul and Sanders have clearly shown that it is possible to campaign and still make it to the Senate floor in time to vote. It is not unfair for Floridians to ask the same of Rubio.
If making time for votes is not something Rubio is willing to do, he should consider stepping down in favor of someone who will. There are plenty of other qualified Floridians ready and willing to take his place.