Rubio warns of foreign actors amplifying virus conspiracies

FILE - In this March 24, 2020, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rubio predicted in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 26, that foreign actors will seek to amplify American conspiracy theories about the virus and find new ways to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, much as Russia did in 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - In this March 24, 2020, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rubio predicted in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 26, that foreign actors will seek to amplify American conspiracy theories about the virus and find new ways to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, much as Russia did in 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is warning that foreign actors will seek to amplify conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and find new ways to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

The Florida Republican said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that one possibility could be an effort to convince people that a new vaccine against the virus, once created, would be more harmful than helpful.

“I think the COVID-19 crisis is one in which you’ve seen efforts to promote false narratives that drive some of the friction in this country,” Rubio said.

Four years after Russian efforts to sow division in the U.S., he warned: “I’m not sure that we’re any less vulnerable than we once were.”

The new intelligence post comes as Rubio has risen to greater prominence in the Senate since his turbulent 2016, when he lost the Republican primary to Donald Trump and then decided to run for reelection after originally saying he would retire. He was tapped as chairman last week when Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina decided to temporarily step aside amid a federal investigation into his stock sales.

As Rubio considers whether to run for president again – that’s a question he says “I need to answer in the future” – he is now working two crucial jobs, at intelligence and also as the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, which is trying to resuscitate the spiraling economy.

For the senator, who arrived in Washington on the 2010 tea party wave, the dual gavels offer a prime platform for his populist economic outlook, particularly his early warnings on China, that are now mainstays of the GOP and on point with Trump’s appeal to Americans who feel left behind by the global economy.

“I do think there’s going to be a broader conversation,” Rubio said about supply chains and domestic manufacturing, “that’s going to have to be part of the new 21st-century economy post-pandemic.”