Why Florida Senators Marco Rubio, Rick Scott have a stake in Tuesday's Georgia election

Wendy Rhodes
Palm Beach Post
Florida Sens. Rick Scott, right, and Marco Rubio have a major interest in next week's Senate runoff election in Georgia.

The balance of power in the U.S. Senate rests on voters in Georgia, but two Florida Republicans have a major interest in Tuesday's election.

As the clock ticks down to the U.S. Senate runoffs, Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are looking at how their influence and power might be affected should Republicans lose control of the chamber.

Rubio's chairmanship of the U.S. Senate's intelligence panel is at stake. The runoffs also are a test of sorts for Scott, who in November was chosen chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Scott's appointment does not begin for a couple more weeks. But like Rubio, Scott has campaigned in Georgia on behalf of incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

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"The Senate Republican majority is sort of the bulwark against the radical ideas we see from the Democrats in the House and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and a lot of the things they've proposed," said Chris Hartline, spokesman for the Senate Campaign Committee. "It underscores how important keeping the Senate majority in 2022 will be."

Of the two, Rubio has the most to gain in the Georgia runoffs.

Rubio in May took over as the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr stepped down after the FBI launched an investigation into his stock trades. 

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Now, Rubio is poised to set the important committee's agenda with a particular cause. Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, has advocated for years how the U.S. will deal with the regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

It is a hot-button issue in South Florida and, arguably, statewide. Florida Hispanics overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump’s policies against the “troyka of tyranny” and the president and Florida Republican candidates bludgeoned their 2020 Democratic rivals as socialists and socialist sympathizers.

Rubio has already declared he will seek re-election in 2022 and the opportunity to be at the forefront of Latin America policy-making is critical. But how far Rubio is able to press "radicalism" in the Americas as a foreign policy priority will come down to which party controls the U.S. Senate.

In a Dec. 10 statement regarding U.S. relations with Cuba, Rubio expressed concern that President-elect Joe Biden might revert to “the failed Obama Administration policy of rewarding Raúl Castro and (Cuban president) Miguel Díaz-Canel with sanctions relief and political legitimacy for decades of repressive behavior.”

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And he reiterated his commitment to fighting oppressive regimes in the three countries in a subsequent statement to The Palm Beach Post. 

“Advancing a responsible policy against the tyrants in our region would mean using sanctions and diplomacy pressure as leverage towards a return to democracy in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua," the statement read. "Furthermore, we must make clear that we will not tolerate any nation in our hemisphere being used as a base of operation for terrorists or adversaries of the United States.”

A spokesperson for Rubio said the senator was not overly concerned about what would happen to the 2021 agenda for the Intelligence Committee should Democrats win the two Georgia seats and take control of the Senate. He said that Rubio would likely become vice chair and the current vice chair, Mark Warner, D-Virginia, would become chair.

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The two senators work well together and are largely on the same page on Latin-American policy, the spokesperson said, adding that Rubio should still wield ample influence on the committee’s upcoming agenda.

Certainly, however, many Cuban-Americans in South Florida would share Rubio’s concerns over how Biden and a Democratic Senate might deal with the Castro regime. It was only four years ago that President Barack Obama, in their eyes, made the grave mistake of doing the wave with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro at a baseball game in Havana, to the chagrin of Cuban-Americans throughout South Florida.  

In addition, Obama normalized relations between the two counties by opening up embassies, trade and travel. That did not sit well with many Cuban-American voters, who felt let down, yet again, by what they see as poor Democratic policies dating back to the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

With the support of Rubio, Trump reverted many of Obama’s policies. And Trump's recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader, along with policies to starve President Nicolás Maduro's regime of money previously funneled to the Venezuelan government through Cuba, has drawn support from Venezuelan-Americans.

The same holds true for Nicaraguan-Americans, who view any attempt by the U.S. to deal with President Daniel Ortega as a slap in the face to the millions they say are still suffering at the hands of what many call a violent and corrupt regime.