Why isn’t Rubio helping confirm the first Cuban American to lead Homeland Security? | Opinion

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Fabiola Santiago
·6 min read
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You would think that the nomination of the first Latino, first immigrant and first Cuban American to lead the Department of Homeland Security would have the Cuban-American senator from West Miami jumping for joy.

But not Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential contender from Florida who coined Donald Trump’s “con man” nickname then went on to become one of his most servile collaborators. And he remains so — even after a seditious insurrection that Trump encouraged.

No, he won’t vote to convict twice-impeached Trump, Rubio has said, but it gets worse.

Inconceivably, it’s looking more and more like the senator won’t support either President Joe Biden’s nomination of Havana-born, Cuban-American Jew Alejandro Mayorkas to lead DHS.

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The 61-year-old is a former federal prosecutor and career civil servant with top-level experience, tasked among other national security responsibilities, with immigration matters. He’s compassionate toward those seeking refuge, but is no liberal. He is a professional, described by colleagues as “conservative” and big on national security.

Like so many Cuban exiles in Miami, after Fidel Castro’s Communist takeover, the Mayorkases came to the United States in 1960 on tourist visas and lived in Miami for a while. It was the family’s second exile; his father, a Turkish-Polish Jew, fled to Cuba after World War I. His mother fled the Nazis in Romania, going to France, and then to Cuba, where she met Mayorkas’ father at a party.

When you read Mayorkas’ profile in The Washington Post, you come across tidbits of Cuban-exile lore, like his father attending the elite American school Ruston Academy in Havana, and the fact that although his parents frequently traveled to the United States, where they had family in Los Angeles and New York City, they thought of Cuba as an “idyllic” home.

If he were a Republican, Florida’s two senators would be falling all over themselves to ensure Mayorkas’ swift confirmation.

So why won’t Rubio stand with a fellow Cuban American when, in the same breath, he calls at every turn for Biden to show more bipartisanship?

This would be his chance to show some himself, but the simple answer is that it’s politically inconvenient for Rubio’s and the GOP’s brand of Florida politics.

The Miami-California-raised and Washington, D.C.-residing Mayorkas is a Democrat — and Rubio and other Cuban-American Republicans in Congress have invested a lot of capital demonizing the party to win votes with success.

But they’ve backed themselves into a corner on this one.

Rubio’s lack of support for Mayorkas is even more strange when you consider that Rubio is one of the original architects of the defunct Dream Act, which would have given DREAMers a pathway to citizenship, pre-Trump. And Mayorkas is credited with drafting DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which President Barack Obama ordered to protect DREAMers from deportation.

A Cuban American for Biden Cabinet

With Rubio or without him, the script has already been written (thanks to Georgia giving Democrats a majority in the Senate): A highly visible Cuban-American Democrat will most likely be part of Biden’s Cabinet.

If confirmed as expected, Mayorkas would become one of the highest-ranking Cuban Americans to serve in the federal government.

The other Cuban American in a Cabinet position — Republican Alex Acosta, labor secretary under Trump — resigned in disgrace after his role in serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal came under heavy scrutiny.

Rubio didn’t give one iota of a damn about this kind of damaging record when Acosta’s confirmation came up.

But Mayorkas has gotten under Rubio’s skin because of the role he played in the Obama administration’s negotiations with the Cuban government to restore relations as deputy director of Homeland Security.

Again, Rubio fails to see this, strategically, as a positive.

The role he played means Mayorkas has experience in dealing with the Cubans and could advise Biden on how to avoid the pitfalls of Obama’s Cuba policy.

If Rubio were truly interested in getting Cuba to release political prisoners, including Cuban Americans, on the island, he’d be for Mayorkas’ confirmation.

Yet, the senator has been busy setting the stage in tweets and Fox News appearances to obstruct his confirmation.

In the latter case, he advocated for Americans who “feel socially displaced, like strangers in their own country,” hinting that a Biden administration would mean a free-for-all for immigrants, when that’s not what’s being proposed.

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But let’s do the math: Who has more credibility on Cuba, Mayorkas, a professional tasked with the vital role of negotiating with a retrenched adversary, or Rubio, who fails to stand against an attempted coup in his own country?

“On the heels of a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the largest cybersecurity breach in our history, it is absurd that some Republican Senators are dragging out the confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas as the next Secretary of Homeland Security,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, said in a statement he sent me via his spokesman.

“Mr. Mayorkas is highly qualified...And like me, the son of Cuban immigrants, he knows how important it is to create a more humane immigration system,” Menendez said. “Lastly, my colleagues who frequently raise concerns about communism and socialism would be wise to support Mr. Mayorkas, who knows better than most the impact of such political ideologies.“

Every now and then, when the political winds favor it, savvy Rubio likes to separate himself from radical colleagues such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who last week blocked an attempt to move forward with Mayorkas’ confirmation by unanimous consent.

But is Rubio really any better?

No.

I reached out to his spokeswoman for comment, but she didn’t even bother to acknowledge my various emails.

Despite the naysayers, the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee voted on Tuesday, 7-4, to move forward the nomination; Mayorkas is expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

To his shame, Florida’s other Republican senator, Rick Scott, was one of the four senators voting against Mayorkas. Cuban Americans should remember that when he comes to Miami looking to endear himself by talking tough on Cuba and Venezuela. Scott rejected one of us for no purpose at all other than partisanship.

If Rubio knew what’s best for him and for his community, he would break rank.

He should support Mayorkas’ swift confirmation, but he won’t. He lacks the necessary backbone.