Nagged for months about his truancy in the U.S. Senate, GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s Capitol Hill office on Friday released a thorough accounting of all the help he’s given his constituents.
The 19-page constituent service report details how Rubio’s office has received over 30,000 requests for assistance on issues from Medicare and Social Security to veteran’s benefits, and boasts a 95 percent completion rate. The document also notes over 16,000 people have visited his “mobile office” program.
The timing of the report is conspicuous, coming just under 60 days before the crucial Iowa caucuses. Rubio has leveraged his strong debate performances into higher poll numbers and increased fundraising, establishing himself as a strong alternative should “outsider” candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson falter.
The report is also a strategic move against his direct opponent in the state, Jeb Bush, who used Rubio’s absences as an attack strategy in a televised debate. “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush said. “The Senate, what is it? Like a French workweek? You get three days when you have to show up?”
Rubio wound up winning the exchange, though, noting that other candidates who ran for the White House had missed votes, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s voting record,” Rubio replied. “Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
Bush’s campaign has faltered from the start and the former Florida governor is now is the low single digits in most polls. Rubio has climbed to second position in a new Quinnipiac poll and is in 4th place in a new CNN poll. His campaign goal is to grab Florida’s coveted “favorite son” status in this important swing state.
New Year, New Clean Slate
While Rubio’s office issued a similar report in July 2014, this new one will no doubt help his White House campaign to clear the decks of the pesky issue, providing a readily available shield to ward off criticism before the GOP nominating process enters a critical new phase.
And there has been plenty of criticism.
In October, the Florida Sun-Sentinel, a newspaper that endorsed Rubio’s senate run in 2010, issued an editorial calling on him to resign his seat, arguing the issues facing the country demand a lawmaker who is on the job full-time and not running for president.
Friday’s report also plays right into a narrative Rubio, who has missed up to 30 percent of Senate votes this year by some estimates, has used before to rebut charges of absenteeism, namely that being a sitting senator is about more than casting votes.
"The majority of the job of being a senator isn't walking on to the Senate floor and lifting your finger on a non-controversial issue and saying which way you're going to vote," he said in October during an appearance on NBC's The Today Show. "The majority of the work of a senator is the constituent service.”
Yet his spotty attendance continues to pop up on the campaign trail. On Thursday, while Rubio delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, his Senate colleague, Rand Paul of Kentucky, was back in the Senate chamber voting on legislation. The audience applauded when they learned of the cancellation, though that may have had something to do with the group’s uneasy relationship with Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) than with his son’s dedication to the job.
Meanwhile, the Sun-Sentinel is upping its criticism. In an editorial published last week the newspaper said Rubio's voting record “continues to get worse with each quarter,” estimating he missed 81 percent of recent votes.
Rubio’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment about the timing of the report or if it planned to use the data in the future.