Congress

Rick Scott joins a Congress that can’t clean up after itself

Rick Scott comes to Washington after eight years governing the nation’s third most populous state and a perfect three-for-three record in expensive campaigns. He even received a special swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed him to finish his term as governor, appointing dozens of supporters to various boards and commissions.

But Scott isn’t the highest-profile incoming senator. That distinction belongs to Utah senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who sealed the deal with an op-ed denouncing President Donald Trump a day before taking office.

Instead, Scott comes to a city where the trash is overflowing on the National Mall because Trump decided to shut down the government to fight for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s the most junior senator in a body that regularly keeps the government running with hours or minutes to spare, and his extra week in office as governor cost him three spots on the seniority list, a move that could affect committee assignments down the road.

“I don’t get why the government’s shut down. I didn’t do it,” Scott said during an interview inside a makeshift basement office. “I got my stuff done. Everyone wants to blame one person but it’s everyone’s responsibility; it’s House members .... and the president. It’s all their responsibility to get this done.”

Scott was sworn at 4:05 p.m. Tuesday by Vice President Mike Pence. About a half-dozen sitting senators, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Republican senators Mel Martinez, George LeMieux and Connie Mack III, were on hand. Scott was on hand for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inauguration earlier in the day in Tallahassee but left before DeSantis’ speech to travel to Washington.

Scott expressed support for Trump’s border-wall push, arguing that a wall helps to fulfill every American’s desire to feel safe. He also hinted that the bomb-throwing tactics of past first-year senators like Ted Cruz, who led an effort to shut the government down in 2013 to try to repeal Obamacare, won’t be part of his game plan in Washington.

“If you look at my career, I’ve gotten my stuff done by talking to other people and surrounding myself with smart people, by finding where there’s agreement and working on that, but also trying to be an incrementalist, where I say, ‘What can you get done today?’”

Scott deflected when asked if the president should declare a national emergency to build a border wall without congressional approval, and said that he will “see what makes it to the Senate floor” in response to Democrats trying to pass bills to fund parts of the government during the border wall debate.

“It’s exciting to be up here,” Scott said shortly before his inauguration. “This place doesn’t seem to be working very well.”

After his formal swearing-in, Scott and Pence along with Scott’s family posed for a ceremonial swearing-in inside the Old Senate Chamber. One of Scott’s grandchildren loudly proclaimed to the dozens of cameras that he was not a fan of photographs before posing.

Though Scott spent $63.6 million of his own money to beat incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson — freeing up GOP resources to be spent in competitive races elsewhere — Sen. Marco Rubio said other Republicans in Washington won’t necessarily see Scott’s outlay of cash as a form of gratitude.

“This is not generally a place where gratitude is in abundance. People kind of move on,” Rubio said.

Rubio noted that first-year senators regardless of seniority can wield a significant amount of influence in comparison to first-year members of the House of Representatives. He cited Cruz’s tactics on Obamacare as an example.

“His [Scott’s] success up here will be a function of how hard he works and the experience he has in government,” Rubio said.

Scott was scheduled to end his first day in Washington with a quintessential event, a big-money fundraiser for his associated super PAC where attendees are asked to contribute between $10,000 and $100,000. He hasn’t figured out a timetable for his biggest campaign promises, like pushing for term limits in a body where the most powerful Republican senator has served since 1984.

“I put out some very specific plans on term limits and on not getting paid if you don’t pass a budget,” Scott said. “I’m going to look through the process to get that done as quickly as I can. I don’t know if that will take me two months or six years, but I’m going to work on that.”

Scott will take over most of Nelson’s committee assignments, including posts on Armed Services and Commerce, which oversee the military and nation’s space program. In contrast, Rubio’s committee work includes foreign affairs and intelligence.

There are some areas of potential disagreement between Scott and the Trump administration. Scott in particular mentioned the need to do more in Latin America and be more aggressive at punishing Cuba and Venezuela, along with the potential for trade deals negotiated by the administration that hurt Florida’s economy. Then there’s also the torrent of late-night social media falsehoods from Trump that often leave GOP lawmakers wringing their hands.

“When I agree with him, I’ll agree with him. When I disagree with him, I’ll disagree with him,” Scott said. “I represent Florida; his responsibility is for the whole country. And while I have duties to represent the whole country as a member of the Senate, I got elected by the citizens of Florida and I will represent them aggressively.”

Although Scott angered some Republicans by signing bills like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which made it harder for young adults to obtain firearms and increased school security, don’t expect him to take many stands like the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who scuttled the effort to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic late-night vote.

“The federal government has got to get out of telling everybody how to do everything,” Scott said.

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.


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