Marco Rubio Tried to Block Top-Level Latinos from Appointments During the Obama Years

Marco Rubio voted against Sonya Sotomayor for the US Supreme Court.

In the messy business of being a political climber, one climbs over bodies. Marco Rubio tried to block the nation's first Latino Supreme Court justice. His blocking judicial nominees further down the federal bench also made news:

It's time to ask Sen. Marco Rubio if he cares more about appeasing Republican leadership than ensuring his constituents have access to justice. Yet again, a qualified judicial nominee whom Rubio claims to support is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rubio refuses to do anything about it. In 2013, Rubio allowed Sen. Chuck Grassley, then ranking Republican on the committee, to put the brakes on Middle District of Florida Judge Brian Davis for nearly two years before he was confirmed. This time it's Southern District nominee Mary Barzee Flores whom Grassley (now the committee chairman) is holding up, but Rubio's response has been the same: stand idly by while the people of Florida wait for a judge. ("Why won't Marco Rubio speed process for judicial nominee Flores?", Sun Sentinel, Sept. 16 2015)

There may be another case where Rubio successfully obstructed a fellow Cuban American from advancement, and a Republican at that.

In a distinguished career, Jose Abreu served as one of Miami's most well-respected and competent civil servants. As Director of Miami International Airport, Abreu brought to an end a decade of turmoil around pay-to-play politics and lobbying involving contracts at the region's largest and most important economic engine. Former Governor Jeb Bush appointed Abreu to another key post: Florida Secretary of Transportation.

In late January 2013, Abreu was invited to visit the White House to meet with President Obama. He was a final candidate for an open position in the Cabinet: U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Standing in Abreu's path: another Republican Cuban American from Miami: the junior senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.

Why wasn't Abreu appointed after being vetted by the White House, including a visit with President Obama?

Why would Rubio -- serving on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation -- bar a fellow Cuban American Republican from a Cabinet post? The intrigue is on several levels. The Capital Hill Cuban blog blasted Abreu in February 2013, after the Brazilian multi-national firm, Odebrecht, was awarded by the airport to head a major new development called Airport City. The ostensible reason: Odebrecht was working with the Cuban government on major infrastructure projects at the port of Mariel.

Political opposition to Havana has long been the organizing principal of Miami's Cuban American political elite. Rubio, included.

But there was another issue, at play. At Airport City, Abreu had turned away a last-minute effort by Miami-Dade's power political player, MCM Construction, to insert itself in the bidding process; a process that had closed. MCM, owned by the campaign-heavy Munilla family in Miami, has a reputation for bullying its way into local government contracts.

According to the website OpenSecrets, in the 2016 election cycle MCM is one of the largest Republican donors from the construction industry. A June 2015 report by Center for Responsive Politics identified $58,400 in MCM Construction contributions. In November 2015, members of the Munilla family were listed as hosts of a Rubio for President fundraiser at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami, with Leadership Circle contributions at $27,000.

In 2013, the White House was willing to be inclusive despite the fact that one Republican cabinet official, Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel, had already upset fellow Republicans for refusing to embrace Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's call to obstruct every initiative of the president.

It stands to reason; the White House did not want a confirmation fight over Abreu. It also stands to reason that MCM Construction wasn't used to being blocked. Only one person could have stopped a Cuban American Republican from being elevated to a Cabinet office in the Obama White House: the Munilla's good friend; US Senator Marco Rubio.