marco rubio donald trump composite
Trump tanking Republican hopes of retaining the Senate?
02:14 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

"People know I have strong disagreements with both candidates in this race," Rubio said

"Like most Americans, people look at this and say, these are not ideal choices," he added

Washington CNN  — 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio refused to say Thursday whether Donald Trump would keep the country safe as president and whether the businessman would be a role model for children.

Rubio, who is seeking re-election, also said a Republican Congress is necessary to be a check on whoever the next president is, adopting a pitch that other down-ballot Republicans have made in the election’s closing weeks.

“The military is what keeps (the country) safe,” Rubio told reporters in Naples, Florida. “We have to rebuild our military and (Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton) is a supporter of the defense cuts and the sequester which would be damaging to our country.”

Rubio, who ran against Trump in the Republican primary and dropped out in March, also repeatedly dodged questions about whether Trump would be someone children could look up to.

“People know I have strong disagreements with both candidates in this race,” he said. “I think Hillary Clinton would be a terrible role model in terms of the things she has done while in office. She destroyed emails and evidence while she was under investigation. And her policies are bad too.”

And when a CNN reporter repeated the question, he dodged it again.

Republicans: No honeymoon if Clinton wins

“Like most Americans, people look at this and say, ‘These are not ideal choices,’” he responded.

Rubio also stressed the need to have strong checks and balances within the government, though he didn’t specifically refer to Clinton. Other GOP senators in tough re-election fights and their backers have made a similar argument, as seen in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Missouri.

“How do we wind up in the greatest country of the history of the world with two choices that people are very unhappy with?” he said. “But that was the result of the Republican primary we had … We’re still going to have House and Senate that will pass laws and budgets hopefully, and a president that will execute them, and that check and balance, it works, it’s what kept our republic for over 240 years. We’re going to need to have a strong Senate.”

When asked about the future of the Republican Party, he said it has some work to do.

#TBT: A celebration of political Vines

“I’ve always been concerned about the future of the Republican Party because like any political movement, you’re either growing or you’re dying,” he responded. “The Republican Party and the conservative movement needs to do a better job of taking the things we stand for and convincing more people of all walks of life to be supportive of the things that we believe in … That’s going to be true of no matter what happens in the presidential race.”

One question he directly answered was whether he planned to run for president in 2020.

“If I wanted to run for President, I wouldn’t run for the Senate again because this is the toughest swing state in the country … I’m focused on serving in the Senate,” he responded with a smile.

During a rally Thursday in Naples, Rubio did not mention Trump’s name once in a roughly 10-minute speech, even though a congressional candidate who introduced him said flatly that Rubio “supports Trump,” prompting applause from the packed hall.