Sen. Marco Rubio will temporarily serve as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Monday.
The Florida Republican’s appointment as interim chairman of the panel comes after Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) last week informed Senate leadership that he would step aside as chairman while he faces an FBI investigation into his stock trades.
It represents a significant elevation for Rubio, who after a failed 2016 presidential campaign is once again seeing his star rise. With the appointment, Rubio becomes a member of the so-called “Gang of 8,” the group of congressional and intelligence committee leaders from both chambers who regularly receive the most sensitive classified briefings.
“Senator Rubio was the natural choice for this temporary assignment on the basis of accumulated committee service,” McConnell said in a statement. “His proven leadership on pertinent issues only made the decision easier.”
Rubio is among the Senate’s most vocal Russia and China hawks, and he has actively sought to position himself as a go-to Republican voice on foreign policy and national security issues. He is expected to largely continue Burr’s bipartisan approach to the committee’s Russia investigation.
But Rubio has also made his mark as chairman of the Small Business Committee, where he has played an integral role in the Senate’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. His panel was responsible for the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program, a lifeline for small businesses and a key component of the $2 trillion CARES Act and the following $484 billion relief bill. It was not immediately clear on Monday whether Rubio would be required to relinquish his chairmanship of that panel.
Burr stepped aside as chairman of the Intelligence Committee as the scandal surrounding his stock trades deepened last week. Last Wednesday night, FBI agents served a warrant on the North Carolina Republican and seized his cell phone. In addition to the Justice Department investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee is also looking into Burr’s stock transactions.
Earlier this year, Burr sold off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares around the time he was receiving closed-door briefings about the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica reported that Burr’s brother-in-law dumped several shares on the same day.
The transactions have prompted allegations of insider trading and self-enrichment. Members of Congress and their staffers are barred from using non-public information gleaned through their official duties to inform their financial decisions.
The secretive Intelligence Committee, which conducts nearly all of its business in private classified facilities, will be busy in the weeks and months to come.
The panel is expected to vote this week on President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), sending the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
And it will soon release the fifth and final installment in its exhaustive, years-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In what may have been Burr’s last move as chairman, the committee announced Friday that the report was submitted for classification review. It is expected to focus on the allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as part of a review of the counterintelligence investigation.
When it comes to the committee’s business, Burr is viewed as a straight shooter and he has a solid working relationship with the panel’s Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. Burr’s moves as chairman have often drawn the ire of Trump and his supporters, including his decision to issue a subpoena to the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
Rubio is expected to take a similar approach as chairman — and like Burr, he has a close relationship with Warner. The pair have teamed up on issues including China’s theft of intellectual property, and they joined forces in 2018 in an effort to unify European nations, through their parliamentarians, against Russia’s incursions into the continent.
“Senator Rubio has been a great partner on intelligence and national security issues and I look forward to working with him in his new role as acting chairman,” Warner said.
In 2016, Rubio criticized Trump for using hacked materials released by WikiLeaks — specifically, personal emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman — in his presidential campaign, and warned that Republicans could be the next targets.
“I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us,” Rubio said at the time.
“As our intelligence agencies have said, these leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it,” he added.