Newly-elected Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) put some distance between himself and the nascent Senate Tea Party Caucus on Monday, saying he doesn't see the need for it.
Rubio, dubbed the country's first Tea Party senator by the New York Times Magazine, has been closely watched since arriving in the Senate for hints as to where he'll position himself in the Republican caucus. Rubio capitalized on significant Tea Party support in his runaway win last year, but has since taken a more center-right route -- causing some to speculate he could be a top vice presidential contender for the 2012 Republican ticket.
During the 2010 campaign, in fact, Nevada Senate contender Sharron Angle (R), a favorite of the Tea Party, questioned Rubio's Tea Party credentials in private meeting that was secretly recorded. When asked about Rubio, Angle said "that's a stretch for me."
In an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida politics website, Rubio said he hasn't planned on the joining the caucus. He didn't turn his back on Tea Party activists, however, adding that a Senate caucus is antithetical to what the Tea Party is all about.
"My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of 'Tea Party,'" he said. "If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that's happening in Washington D.C., the 'Tea Party' all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians...I think that the real power of the Tea Party comes from its ability to drive the debate and the issues from the grassroots up, as opposed to from the politicians down."
Rubio added that he fully plans to join the Conservative Steering Committee, which is run by Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
The Senate Tea Party caucus is set to meet for the first time on Thursday. So far it only has three members: Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and DeMint.