Since he joined the Senate in 2011, Marco Rubio has been one of most feckless members of Congress. Once considered the potential savior of the GOP for his Latino heritage, he has embarrassed himself every time he takes the national spotlight, whether reaching for his water bottle during his 2013 State of the Union Response, or getting taken down by Chris Christie in the 2016 debates. But by far his biggest failure has been his reluctance to do anything about gun control, even when gun violence affects his home state. Just take a look at all the times he’s tweeted everyone’s least favorite bromide following mass shootings:
And what did Rubio do to prevent further shootings in the wake of these tragedies? Nothing. In 2013, he voted against banning high-capacity magazines. After the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, he voted against a law that would ban criminals on the Terrorist Watch List from obtaining weapons. And last week, following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, he took the Senate floor to argue against gun control, saying that banning assault weapons wouldn’t stop people determined to commit violence. Firmly in the pocket of the NRA, he has accepted $3,303,355 from the organization, the sixth-most of any US Senator. (This number has been brought to you by the Google Chrome extension app Follow the Money, which inserts the amount Senators have taken from the NRA when you Google their names.)
Fortunately, Rubio’s constituents – even the ones not old enough to vote yet – are not having it, and in CNN’s town hall meeting last night, they let him know it. The young teenagers who survived the shooting have taken the country by storm with their fearlessness to call things like they see them. Although they have been subject to attacks from both the alt-right and the alt-left (who are basically the alt-right), they have risen above the fray with their powerful and direct message, “We Call BS,” coined by survivor Emma Gonzalez. One of the bravest is Cameron Kasky, who had the cajones to confront Rubio last night with a direct question about his cronyism: will he stop taking NRA donations?
Here’s how Kasky introduced his question:
“This isn’t about red and blue. We can’t boo people because they’re Democrats and boo people because they’re Republicans. Anyone who’s willing to show change, no matter where they’re from, anyone who’s willing to start to make a difference, is someone we need on our side here, and this is about people who are for making a difference to save us, and people who prefer money. So, Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?”
This is great rhetoric. Kasky starts by quieting down the raucous crowd, reminding them that gun control can’t be a blue vs. red issue. This lulled Rubio into a false sense of complacency. So far, he’d gotten off easy by offering small solutions to lessen the impact of mass shootings, like raising the age you can buy an assault weapon from 18 to 21. And Kasky indirectly acknowledges this, saying that his side will accept help from anyone who wants to, regardless of their party. But whether intentional or not, this is a huge trap, and Rubio fell right into it with his mealymouthed answer:
“People buy into my agenda, and I do support the second amendment, and I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe. And I do support any law that will keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer, and that’s why I support the things that I have stood for and fought for – ”
Kasky said he’d accept help from any side, and then Rubio said he would too. That’s the trap, and it defined Rubio for the rest of his rambling non-answer. Kasky asked him a second time if he would agree to stop taking NRA money, and he once again said the same thing: “People buy into my agenda.” After he said it for the third time, he attempted to pivot back to “never again,” but Kasky didn’t stop:
Kasky: Right now, in the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?
Rubio: I think in the name of 17 people I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this –
Kasky: I’m talking about NRA money.
Rubio: No, no because –
Kasky: As a matter of fact, I’ll bet we can get people in here to give you exactly as much money as the NRA would have.
This response got a lot of applause,and Rubio stepped back to preaching the gospel of false equivalency:
Rubio: There is money on both sides of every issue in America, and where that leaves us in policy-making is to look at the issues and make a decision based on what we think is right. But ultimately, look, the first amendment is as important as the second, and therefore, you have every right to ask that question of me and I’m here to tell you –
Kasky: I’m going to ask again: are you going to accept money from the NRA in the future?
Rubio: I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda…
Kasky: Your agenda is protecting us, right?
Rubio then muttered something about raising the age to purchase an assault rifle, and ended by saying, “if people want to support my agenda they’re welcome to do so, but they buy into my ideas. I don’t buy into theirs.” A dissatisfied Kasky admonished the Senator’s patrons by saying, “NRA, please keep the money out of Rubio,” before moderator Jake Tapper cut back to a commercial.
So far, the response to this exchange has been brutal, all of it in favor of Kasky. Rubio himself doubled down on his pro-gun positions on Twitter following the meeting, further solidifying his image as an NRA shill who can’t stand up for himself, whether he’s facing Chris Christie, Donald Trump, or a well-informed teenager. Rubio had better be afraid – many of these teens are almost old enough to vote, and when they do, it will spell the end of his and his party’s reign of terror.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.