Marco Rubio announces staff changes sure to fuel 2016 talk

April 11

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Updated 4:02 p.m.

The chief of staff for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is stepping down post to become an adviser to Rubio’s political-action committee, part of a series of staff changes announced Friday that will add to speculation about the freshman senator's plans for 2016.

The departure of Cesar Conda, a longtime GOP insider who once worked for Vice President Dick Cheney, is the latest sign that Rubio is staffing up his political shop ahead of the 2016 presidential race. Rubio in recent weeks has openly discussed his political future, saying he will wait until next year to decide whether to run for president or for reelection in 2016. Florida law bars candidates from running in more than one race — but the moves announced Friday add to speculation that Rubio is leaning towards running for the White House.

Rubio said in a release Friday that Conda, who has served as his chief of staff since 2011, will lead Rubio's Reclaim America PAC as a senior adviser. Conda will remain as a part-time adviser in Rubio's Senate office.

Conda is a veteran Republican operative with deep connections across the GOP political and policy spectrum. He has spent his tenure helping develop Rubio's economic and foreign policies after previously serving as Dick Cheney's domestic policy adviser; as a top aide to former Sens. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and Robert Kasten (R-Wis.); and as a policy adviser to the 1996 Dole-Kemp presidential campaign.

According to people familiar with the move, Rubio expects Conda to still advise him on legislation from his new position, but he also wants Conda to develop and nurture relationships with conservative leaders who could be helpful during a presidential campaign. Ahead of formulating a possible platform, polishing Rubio’s views on issues will be another project.

More broadly, Conda, who has close ties to leading social conservatives and prominent foreign-policy hawks, will serve as Rubio’s point person inside Washington’s Republican community.

As The Post reported this week, Rubio has been frequently reaching out to conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and former administration officials, such as former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, as he mulls a White House bid.

Reclaim America has been active this year, endorsing Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Senate candidate who shares Rubio’s hawkish views on foreign policy. It has also become a campaign-in-waiting for Rubio, keeping his two political strategists, Todd Harris and Terry Sullivan, on retainer. Harris is a veteran of congressional and presidential races, while Sullivan is a veteran Republican operative from South Carolina.

Conda became Rubio’s chief of staff in 2011, soon after Rubio rode national support from conservative groups and tea-party activists to a Senate victory.  Alberto Martinez, Rubio’s deputy of chief of staff and a former campaign adviser to 2008 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, will take over for Conda as the senator’s chief of staff. Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, has been promoted to deputy chief of staff.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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