WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio has been named the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, replacing North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr, who stepped aside while he’s under federal investigation for stock sales made ahead of a coronavirus-driven market crash.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., handed Rubio the gavel on Monday, calling the Florida Republican a “talented and experienced” leader and noted his work on subjects ranging from China and Iran to Russia and North Korea. McConnell noted Rubio’s appointment was only temporarily and it’s unclear whether it could become permanent or whether Burr may return to leading the panel.
“The senior senator for Florida is a talented and experienced Senate leader with expertise in foreign affairs and national security matters,” McConnell said in a statement. “Senator Rubio was the natural choice for this temporary assignment on the basis of accumulated committee service. His proven leadership on pertinent issues only made the decision easier.”
McConnell noted that the post is crucial because while the nation’s intelligence officials are “dedicated, hard-working men and women” they also need oversight. “As recent years have made painfully clear with respect to federal law enforcement, we also need proactive leadership from within and thorough oversight from Congress to keep partisan bias and political interference out of these sensitive activities.”
Rubio, in a statement, said he looked forward to leading the committee.
“I am grateful to Leader McConnell for his confidence in me to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee during Senator Burr’s absence from the Chairmanship,” Rubio said. “The Committee has long been one that conducts its work seriously, and I look forward to continuing that tradition.”
The Florida Republican and 2016 presidential candidate serving his second term in the Senate has generally defended the work of U.S. intelligence agencies and has been a foreign policy hawk on Russia and China. Last year, he sponsored legislation requiring Chinese companies to provide certain financial information if they are publicly traded in U.S. markets.
His ascension is not expected to alter the panel’s bipartisan handling of security issues forged under Burr and the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. The panel receives classified briefings and oversees the activities of the nation’s intelligence operations.
As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Rubio has forcefully countered President Donald Trump’s claim that Russia did not meddle in the U.S. election. He also voted for a bill to make sure Trump could not dial back economic sanctions against Moscow without congressional approval. And he’s publicly wished the president took a harder stance on global human rights, which Rubio has championed.
The post could give Rubio, 47, a more expansive Capitol Hill resume should he decide to run for president again as many expect he will.
Burr gave up the chairmanship of the Intelligence Commission Thursday, amid questions that he illegally sold the stocks after receiving information obtained as a member of the committee on the severity of the oncoming COVID-19 pandemic.
Burr and his wife sold up to $1.6 million in February, and said they did so based only on public news reports about the coronavirus. He called his decision to step side “necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions.” He also has asked the Ethics Committee to review the matter.
With the investigation intensifying, McConnell, said in a statement Thursday that he and Burr agreed that it would be in “the bests interests” of the Intelligence Committee for the North Carolina Republican to step down as its chairman.He will remain on the panel.
Other senators including Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and their spouses or advisers sold stocks around the same time lawmakers received briefings about the severity of the coronavirus, financial disclosure forms showed. But none have been as scrutinized as Burr whose cellphone was seized by federal investigators as part of the probe.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson