This piece originally appeared on NBCNews.com.
Sen. Marco Rubio seems to have gone missing. Not missing from his Senate votes, like he was infamous for during his first term. Missing from the larger political conversation, especially when it comes to immigration and being a sober counterbalance to President Donald Trump.
During his time in the Senate, Rubio, R-Fla., has not always been a full-throated immigrant advocate. Nevertheless, he has always emerged as someone calling for the respect of immigrants and the need for sensible immigration reform.
Rubio was a member of the 2013 Gang of Eight Senate immigration reform bill. Rubio, the son of immigrants personally knows the relevance of immigration policy. And he also happens to have a mom that won’t let him forget his roots. At the outset of the Gang of Eight meetings, Rubio’s mom left him a voicemail in Spanish saying it was loving advice from the person who cared the most for him in the world.
“Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them … They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please don’t mess with them,” said his mom to the senator in a voicemail he has often quoted.
However, now Rubio is MIA and this in the midst of some real immigrant ugliness — even for Republicans. Earlier this month, Iowa Rep. Steve King tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.” Some Latino Republican members of Congress, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Florida Republicans, came out swinging against King in tweets of their own.
From Rubio, a deafening silence, not just on King’s tweet but on the larger wave of nonsensical immigration policy coming out of the Trump White House. The silence is frustrating to immigration reform advocates, but more than that, it’s puzzling. Politically, the stage is set for Rubio to be the adult in the room and to rise above the fray.
For starters, Rubio doesn’t have to worry about an election for six years. He was resoundingly re-elected in November, beating Democrat Patrick Murphy by 8 percentage points. And this after Rubio publicly said he was not interested in serving in the Senate. So in other words, Rubio is safe for a good couple of years.
The second reason Rubio’s silence is so odd is that we know from the 2016 Republican primary race that he is no friend of Trump. During the campaign, Trump ruthlessly skewered “Little Marco.” Rubio doesn’t have to exact revenge — though he did give it a go, ribbing Trump for his small hands and spray tan. But he doesn’t have to toe Trump’s political line. As a senator that is not up for re-election until 2022, Rubio doesn’t need anything from Trump.
Rubio is neither politically nor personally simpatico with Trump so what is holding him back?
Finally, the biggest head scratcher is that Rubio has signaled he wants to give the presidential run another try. In April 2015 Marco Rubio launched his presidential campaign from Miami’s Freedom Tower. An iconic place that saw thousands of Cuban exiles and immigrants pass through. Rubio incorporated his American Dream immigration story into his presidential bid. Things did not work out for him (or the dozen other GOP candidates) but politics is a long game and his message of the American Dream and common sense immigration reform will circle back.
We know from history that anti-immigrant sentiment waxes and wanes. Just as it is peaking today, it will recede.
So if you’re Marco Rubio, why not position yourself as the calming, steady voice on immigration?
This is not the time to stand idly by. Now more than ever, Rubio needs to come out of the shadows.