Sen. Marco Rubio has gone to Asia. No, really. He has. The Florida Republican left Saturday for a weeklong tour of Japan, the Philippines and South Korea — his agenda filled with power meetings and photo ops with Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; assorted military officials and diplomats plus U.S. troops. Mr. Rubio has struck a very authoritative posture.
"Asia is vitally important to the future of America's security and economic well-being," he says. "America must make sure that our rhetoric about increasing our presence in Asia does not come at the expense of enduring alliances and challenges in other parts of the world. The United States has long been a Pacific power and it is vital that we maintain our robust military and diplomatic presence in the region while adapting to new realities."
OK. That sounds good. Photos from Mr. Rubio's many visits in Japan on Monday show the lawmaker obviously on a serious listening tour; he is, after all, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee. So we shall see.
And whether or not they remember his curious on-camera water break of almost a year ago, Republican voters still appear to have a place in their heart for Mr. Rubio, now 42, with three years of Senate experience and a second book about the future of the GOP in the works.
A new NBC/Marist College poll reveals that on a list of 10 potential presidential candidates, Mr. Rubio is fifth — outranking Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Mr. Rubio is eclipsed in popularity by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in first place, followed by Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.
"Marco Rubio is facing the most consequential decision of his political career since entering the U.S. Senate campaign that made him a national figure: to seek re-election or to run for president," observes Alex Leary, who is Washington bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times.
REVISITING REPUBLICAN NAVEL GAZING
"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue."
That is but a tiny snippet of a big study by the Republican National Committee. That would be the "Growth and Opportunity Project," a painstaking, 100-page analysis of why the GOP lost the 2012 election. It was released 10 months ago. The clock is already ticking on the 2014 midterms, and the 2016 presidential election is no longer a distant horizon.
So are Republicans, uh, still talking to themselves? The committee's winter meeting begins Wednesday; there are multiple closed press forums, and some high-profile speakers, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Huckabee, who most recently instructed the GOP to stop looking for political purity and quit using the acronym "RINO", or "Republican in name only." So what about the growth and opportunity? The curious can revisit ancient wisdom here: Goproject.gop.com.
WOOING VOTERS WHO HATE WASHINGTON
The midterm election season is off to a rickety start. Among the two major parties, there are few meaningful moments, much flailing and potshots. Libertarians and the tea party brim with glee. Are Republicans and Democrats already weary? Well, yes. The campaign trail has taken on an aberrant life of its own that often defies logic. It's expensive. But there's also some genuine strife.
"Both parties are suffering great internal fractures. The Republicans' family feud is much more open and bloody than that of Democrats, because Republicans are the party that is not in power. But this midterm election cycle will publicly scrape open the Democrats' wounds, as they move away from Barack Obama and struggle with the progressive faction of their party," says Salena Zito, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist
"And there are signs that this election cycle may become a GOP resurrection. It takes time for a party to get its act together after losing, and Republicans finally are getting themselves together after their 2008 defeat," she continues.
"In many ways, the 'tea party' victory of 2010 was something of an illusion about the GOP's strength because many of those voters were not party regulars, which gave Republicans a false sense of hope about their chances in 2012," Ms. Zito adds.
"One thing is for certain, however: The unifying characteristic among all denominations of voters is their universal hatred for Washington and their increasing distaste for politics in general. How each party deals with that will be the underlying story in American politics this year."
BACK UP THOSE MILITARY RETIREES
Yes, the big fat federal spending bill is now tethered on Capitol Hill like a gleaming blimp, waiting for purpose.
"This bill was written behind closed doors, spends roughly $1.1 trillion and clocks in at more than 1,500 pages," recalls Rep. Ron DeSantis, who reminds Americans that lawmakers had less than 48 hours to read the thing.
"I voted against the omnibus spending bill. It fails to reform an unaccountable government, increases spending by tens of billions and solely targets retired military personnel — the one group of Americans who have given the most to our country — for negative treatment," the Florida Republican continues.
But he's irked.
"Now that the Senate has passed the bill, and President Obama has signed it, the work to restore the pensions of military retirees to their pre-omnibus levels begins. The omnibus spends money on corporate welfare, the UN Population Fund, programs established in the 2009 stimulus bill, and advertisements for food stamps in foreign countries," Mr. DeSantis declares.
"The government also allows billions of dollars in readily correctable fraud, from refundable tax credits given to those unlawfully in the country to improper payments disseminated via entitlement programs. Congress cannot target military retirees yet do nothing to eliminate any of this waste," he says.
AT The READY
"The United States has offered its full support to the Russian government as it conducts security preparations for the Winter Olympics. To that end, U.S. commanders in the region are conducting prudent planning and preparations should that support be required. Air and naval assets, to include two Navy ships in the Black Sea, will be available if requested for all manner of contingencies in support of — and in consultation with — the Russian government. There is no such requirement at this time," said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, on Monday afternoon.
"U.S. military has escape plan for athletes at 2014 Sochi Olympics," noted the Los Angeles Times, among the 700-plus headlines that emerged in the aftermath.
POLL DU JOUR
• 56 percent of Americans say the federal government should pursue a criminal case against NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
• 54 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of independents and 49 percent of tea party members agree.
• 32 percent say the government should not pursue that case; 28 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of independents and 39 percent of tea party members agree.
• 45 percent overall say Mr. Snowden's leak of NSA information "served the public interest"; 45 percent of Republicans, 45 percent of Democrats, 47 percent of independents and 53 percent of tea party members agree.
• 57 percent of those under 30 and 35 percent of those over 65 also agree.
• 43 percent overall say the leaked information "harmed the public interest"; 43 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents and 39 percent of tea party members agree.
• 35 percent of those under 30 and 43 percent of those over 65 also agree.
Source: A Pew Research Center/USA Today survey of 1,504 U.S, adults conducted Jan. 15-19.
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