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Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul may be giving the official GOP response and the alternative tea party response, respectively, to Tuesday’s State of the Union, but when it comes to their voting records, there is not much light between the two Republicans.
Despite Rubio’s recent attention as a member of a bipartisan group on immigration and the Florida lawmaker’s rising status as the new, more compassionate face of the Republican Party, he is one of the most conservative members of the Senate. Rubio is considered a top contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, a slot Paul also might make a run for, even though the Kentucky lawmaker’s positions are often described as too far out of the mainstream by the Republican establishment.
But on Tuesday, Rubio was one of just 22 senators to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Last month, Rubio was one of 36 senators to vote against the Superstorm Sandy disaster relief package. Fellow Gulf Coast Republicans — and noted conservatives — David Vitter of Louisiana, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi all voted “yes.”
Rubio was also one of only nine senators to vote against modest Senate rules changes meant to reduce the amount of chamber gridlock by streamlining procedures for low-level nomination votes.
Paul also voted “no” on all of these things.
In the 112th Congress, Paul and Rubio received the same Heritage Action conservative score, voting with the group’s suggestion on 96 percent of votes it flagged. That ranked both Rubio and Paul just behind Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and former senator and current Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint in the race to be the Senate’s most conservative member. Even as many Senate Republicans are breaking ranks with the conservative advocacy group, Rubio and Paul are holding strong.
Similarly, the conservative Club for Growth has Paul and Rubio ranked within 3 points of each other on its scorecard. In 2011, the most recent scorecard available, Paul had a 100 percent ranking from the group, with Rubio lagging behind at 97 percent. Both men are in the top 10 most conservative members of the chamber, according to the group.
In opposing the Violence Against Women Act — a bill whose opposition from conservative Republicans gave Democrats political juice in 2012 to paint the party as out-of-touch with women — Rubio may have left himself vulnerable to future Democratic attacks by siding clearly with the tea party wing of the GOP.
Rubio explained his vote Tuesday in a statement, claiming he could not support expansions to the original and now expired law drafted in 1994.
“Unfortunately, I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs, although there’s no evidence to suggest this shift will result in a greater number of convictions,” Rubio’s statement read. “These funding decisions should be left up to the state-based coalitions that understand local needs best, but instead this new legislation would put those decisions into the hands of distant Washington bureaucrats in the Department of Justice. Additionally, I have concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons in Indian country, including non-Indians.”
It’s important to note that Rubio and Paul differ on foreign policy issues. While both men might side with fellow Republicans in opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense, for example, Paul espouses a largely isolationist foreign policy position that diverges from Rubio’s more establishment take on international affairs.