SOPA and PIPA protest power: why Marco Rubio backed off piracy bill

Sen. Marco Rubio was one of the original co-sponsors of the Senate's anti-piracy bill, but he reversed course Wednesday amid a flurry of protests against PIPA and SOPA.

Alan Diaz/AP
Marco Rubio thanks supporters in Coral Gables, Fla., after winning his senate bid during the midterm elections. On Wednesday, Senator Rubio did an about-face and withdrew his support for the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

Florida Senator Marco Rubio Wednesday did a sharp about-face and withdrew his support for the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the face of widespread Web protests that the Senate bill and a companion House measure would restrict Internet freedom.

This being a political blog, not a techie one, our question is this: Does Senator Rubio’s flip-flop help or hurt his chances of becoming the GOP’s 2012 vice-presidential candidate?

First, some background: Rubio was one of the original co-sponsors of the PIPA legislation. Supporters say PIPA would help stop international electronic piracy, which is sapping dollars and jobs out of the US movie, music, and publishing businesses. Opponents say it would go too far by, among other things, empowering the US government to decide whether to block access to foreign websites it deems suspect.

Florida has a big movie industry presence. (Disney World, anyone? Perhaps the Universal Studios tour?) But Rubio for weeks has faced pressure from constituents and some conservative commentators to oppose PIPA and its government-centric solution to the Internet piracy problem.

On Wednesday, the day Wikipedia went black and homework came to a halt, Rubio was one of the first of a string of senators who decided to change their minds. He announced the change on his Facebook page, saying, “Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.”

Others who changed sides on this issue yesterday include Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa.

For his part, Rubio has long been mentioned as a prime veep choice – he’s young, telegenic, a tea party favorite, and hails from a swing state that commands a lot of electoral votes. He’d be a great complement for a northern ex-governor who is kind of stiff and not the first choice of conservatives. Not that we’re naming names, but his initials are Mitt Romney.

We think Rubio helped his chances with Wednesday’s PIPA switch. That’s because some conservative commentators who had vowed to oppose even his reelection if he supported the bill hailed his reversal as evidence of his fitness for higher office.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida showed again why he is a real leader and listener within the conservative movement,” wrote Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative RedState blog and a fervent PIPA opponent, on Wednesday.

Other conservatives noted that one of the primary lobbyists supporting PIPA and its related House bill, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) is Chris Dodd, the motion picture industry’s top person in Washington and a former Democratic Senator from Connecticut.

“All you need to know about SOPA ... is that Chris Dodd supports it,” noted the conservative National Review’s Corner blog.

So that’s what Rubo’s gained: He’s positioned himself against more government control of the economy, and against a guy who is a bête noir of Republicans for his co-authorship of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which established a new government consumer watchdog group, among other things. Sounds like a VP possibility win-win, in our book.

However, we should note that opposition and support of the anti-piracy bill doesn’t break down easily along partisan lines. A conservative Republican, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, wrote the House’s SOPA bill. Two Democrats – Rep. Anna Eshoo of California and Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon – blacked out their congressional websites on Wednesday in support of the fight against the legislation.

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