Pitching himself as an ally of Silicon Valley, presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio proposed giving cellphone companies more access to government-controlled airwaves as part of a package of pro-business initiatives he said would create “thousands upon thousands of high-paying jobs.”
In an appearance that detailed his “grand illustration of America’s potential in the 21st century,” the Florida Republican also pledged to defeat any efforts to limit access to the internet, and separately proposed allowing private businesses to work with government labs to develop new products. The business-friendly message comes as Rubio looks to shift focus away from a stalled bipartisan immigration overhaul he helped craft and as he eyes deep-pocketed potential donors.
Rubio’s remarks – made at an event organized through the Jack Kemp Foundation, a Washington think tank, and hosted at Google’s Washington headquarters – come as he is considering a White House campaign in 2016. Casting himself as friendly to Silicon Valley’s tech titans could help him raise campaign donations from that industry, which so far has been elusive for Rubio.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, internet and computer industries have given Rubio and his leadership committee about $182,000 since 2009. Donations from the telecommunications industry are less enthusiastic, with just $8,500.
Rubio’s top backers to this point have been retirees, investment firms and conservative groups.
Should Rubio formally enter the still-forming contest for the Republican nomination, an affinity among Silicon Valley — and its Wall Street investors — could be handy in raising the needed millions to make it through the first few states.
Rubio’s political brand has taken a hit since he helped negotiate a bipartisan immigration overhaul that cleared the Senate but stalled in the House. Conservatives grew wary of the measure, and the Republican-led House signaled the comprehensive Senate plan would go nowhere.
The tech industry pushed hard for the immigration overhaul, in large part to address its need for highly skilled employees.
Rubio didn’t mention immigration during his remarks, but was asked about it. He remained skeptical of suggestions that immigrants who are in the country illegally could stay in the United States permanently without any pathway to citizenship.
“How do we deal with the 12 million people who are here in a way that is realistic but in a way that is also responsible?” Rubio asked. “Are you willing to have 8 or 9 million people who are here permanently but are not citizens?
“I don’t think that’s a good place for the country to be,” Rubio said.
At this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an early confab where the party’s strongest activists huddle to hear from potential presidential contenders, Rubio finished seventh place in a straw poll. A year earlier, he finished second.
Now, Rubio is trying to rehabilitate his image through a series of policy prescriptions. Monday’s proposal was to make available wireless bandwidth currently controlled by the government to commercial wireless providers, such as AT&T or Sprint.
“Too much of the digital realm is blocked by unnecessary federal restrictions. The more spectrum and bandwidth we can open up to the private sector, the more jobs it can create,” Rubio said, pledging to soon introduce a bill to permit that.
“The American economy will take off at a historic rate; it would create thousands upon thousands of high-paying jobs,” he predicted.
Rubio also said the United States must formalize its opposition to a proposal that would give the United Nations a greater role in governing the internet. Rubio said the proposal is foolhardy and runs counter to the United States’ goal of spreading democracy and human rights.
Rubio’s 40-minute slate of policy ideas included “an interstate energy pipeline system” to transport oil and natural gas from the fields to consumers. He also proposed ending the ban on crude oil exports that has been in place since the 1970s.
Republicans have been highly critical of the United States’ energy policies under President Barack Obama, claiming he has fought a “war on coal” and delayed a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Rubio acknowledged that energy production is up 15 percent since 2005, before adding that it could be higher.
“Selling some of our vast energy resources will lead to explosive growth and higher paying jobs here at home,” he said.
And in a further nod to the tech sector, Rubio said he will continue to push bipartisan legislation that would make it easier for private companies to collaborate with government-funded labs at NASA, the Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health.
Such collaboration could be worth billions to companies.
“Our network of national labs has also long been a leading source of research,” Rubio said. “But they currently lack the ability to work with the private sector to translate this into American jobs.”