Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), will give the formal Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address next week.
Republican congressional leaders signaled in a statement announcing the decision Wednesday that they expect the Florida senator — and potential 2016 presidential candidate — to expand on his well-received speech to the Republican National Convention last summer that weaved the tale of his family's immigrant history with his quick rise through the political ranks.
In a modern-day first, the bilingual Rubio plans to deliver his remarks in English and Spanish — an added bonus for Republicans eager to reach the nation's burgeoning Hispanic population. Aides said they are still coordinating logistics of dual English-Spanish versions of his remarks with Spanish-language television networks, but that Rubio's remarks likely will be pre-recorded to permit the simultaneous broadcast.
Rubio said Wednesday that he is honored to have the opportunity "to discuss how limited government and free enterprise have helped make my family's dreams come true in America."
In the same statement, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called Rubio "one of our party's most dynamic and inspiring leaders. He carries our party’s banner of freedom, opportunity and prosperity in a way few others can. His family’s story is a testament to the promise and greatness of America."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Rubio "embodies the optimism that lies at the heart of the Republican vision of America," adding that the senator "will contrast the Republican approach to the challenges we face with President Obama's vision of even-bigger government and the higher taxes that would be needed to pay for it."
The State of the Union regularly draws one of the largest television audiences for any national political event, meaning Rubio may face his largest crowd ever. The speech presents him with a chance to tout his role in the ongoing bipartisan negotiations over how to overhaul the nation's immigration laws — but aides said Wednesday that he won't discuss any specific immigration proposals.
Since signing on to the bipartisan immigration framework — along with fellow Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — Rubio has been working relentlessly to sell the idea on conservative radio and television. But he's faced some push-back within the party.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) last week called Rubio "amazingly naive" for signing on to a proposal he said would essentially amount to amnesty for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. National Review columnist Rich Lowry slammed the senate plan in a column entitled "Marco Rubio's Bad Deal."
Republican leaders in Congress have so far taken a wait-and-see approach to the Gang of Eight's framework, praising the group for their effort but declining to formally endorse their product. Their selection of Rubio for the key speaking role next week could be a quiet signal that they support his efforts to find a bipartisan compromise on the issue which could help Republicans bolster their dismal poll numbers with Hispanic voters.
Despite the national exposure, opposition party responses to major presidential addresses are fraught with risk: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was widely panned for what critics dubbed an awkward response to a 2009 national address by Obama, while then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's (D) response to President George W. Bush was also criticized as awkward and ineffective.
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.
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