Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is no stranger to making high-profile speeches. Here he speaks at the 2012 Republican National Convention. / H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
Sen. Marco Rubio is being a good sport about awkwardly taking a sip of water during his response to President Obama's State of the Union Address, using some Wednesday morning TV appearances to poke fun at himself.
"I needed water, what am I going to do?" Rubio, R-Fla., said on ABC's Good Morning America. "God has a funny way of reminding us we're human."
Twitter exploded and Rubio's sip of water became a social media sensation.
For the millions of people watching Rubio's nationally televised remarks on Tuesday night, it wasn't so much that the senator was cotton-mouthed as he offered the GOP's vision on the economy. It was the way Rubio - a young, charismatic politician mentioned as a future presidential hopeful - quenched his thirst.
Rubio was standing in front of a TV camera in one of House Speaker John Boehner's conference rooms at the U.S. Capitol as he delivered his remarks. An 8-ounce bottle of Poland Spring water was out of view on a table, and he stepped out of the shot for a moment - without taking his eyes off the camera - to take a sip.
Rubio took a bottle of water to some of his morning show interviews, playing along with the joke as he took a swig while he was on Fox News. It was a step beyond what he did after his speech, when he posted a picture of an empty Poland Spring bottle on Twitter.
"When you give a speech on a podium and the water is right there. But when you don't, you start looking around thinking, 'Where am I going to get the water?'" he said on Fox News.
Rubio explained on CBS that he had a long day. Before giving his speech live in English, he also taped his remarks in Spanish - marking the first time in history that the State of the Union response was delivered in two languages.
"I had already taped an 18-minute speech in Spanish," the senator said. "So I'm just glad the water was nearby. I don't know what I would have done without it."
In politics, the ability to poke fun at oneself is a critical survival tool. Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared on late-night TV shows after he uttered "oops" during a GOP presidential debate in 2011 because he could not remember the name of a federal department he wanted to cut. Perry, whose presidential campaign was already struggling at that time, also walked into the media spin room immediately after the debate to tell reporters he "stepped in it."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got into it, too, during a recent appearance on David Letterman's Late Show. Letterman likes to make fat jokes about Christie, so the governor took a bite out of a doughnut as he was being interviewed.
David Marin, a former communications director for a House committee now with the Podesta Group public relations firm, said Rubio is handling the water break deftly.
"I think Sen. Rubio is going to turn lemons into lemonade here," Marin said. "He's already doing the most important thing: Making light of a moment and owning it. And he's doing it in the right forum - via digital media, which shows real smarts since that's where the conversation was happening."
Charlton McIlwain, a professor of media, culture and politics at New York University, said Rubio was wise to redefine the incident on his own terms by tweeting a picture of his empty water bottle.
By immediately "making a joke of it," McIlwain said, Rubio was able to set the tone of the discussion without leaving pundits and others to define the sip of water as a mistake or a bungle.
As a result, the event will be memorable but "probably not in a negative way" for Rubio, McIlwain said.
(Contributing: Paul Singer)
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