What’s Jeb Bush up to?

March 5, 2013

When Jeb Bush speaks, people -- especially Republicans -- listen.

And so, it's worth examining Bush's surprisingly newsy appearance on the "Today" show Monday in which the former Florida governor addressed immigration, the budget fight and his own future political aspirations.

Yes, Bush was ostensibly on the show to promote his new book. But, by weighing in on immigration (he said no longer supports a path to citizenship, though in a later interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, he said that he could support one under the right circumstances) and the parameters of a grand bargain (some additional tax revenues may be necessary) not to mention leaving the door wide open to a 2016 bid ( he isn't ready to announce but he's not ruling it out), Bush was doing quite a bit more than that.

"This was Jeb's less than subtle signal to donors that he's seriously considering 2016 -- and he sent it in a way that Marco's sure not to miss," said one senior Republican strategist not affiliated with any potential candidate but granted anonymity to speak candidly about the political jockeying. (Rubio has been at the forefront of Senate negotiations to craft a bipartisan compromise on immigration that includes a path to citizenship.)

We've written in the past that Bush may be the only GOP figure currently positioned to offer the Republican party direction and have both the leadership and the rank and file actually, you know, listen. (Rubio, interestingly, is the only other person positioned -- or even close to positioned -- to lead like that.)

For the first few months after the 2012 election, Bush seemed to reject that role -- or at least ignore it -- as he rarely spoke out publicly about where he thought the party needed to go.

But, he appears to have changed his tone -- big time. “I have a voice, I want to share my beliefs about how the conservative movement and the Republican party can regain its footing, because we’ve lost our way," he told Matt Lauer on "Today" Monday.

"He and others were deferential to the candidates and eventual nominee during the GOP primary and election," said Ana Navarro, a Florida-based GOP strategist.  "With that over and done with, there's room now for other voices in the Party to contribute ideas."

"This is Jeb 'unplugged' -- he' s not 'trying' to be anything," said one Bush ally.

To be clear, what Bush said Monday shouldn't be taken as a sign that he is running for president. But it should be read as a clear signal to donors, activists and, yes, Marco Rubio, that Jeb wants to be more prominent in the party going forward -- although the form that increased activity takes remains to be seen.

"I suspect we'll see Jeb weigh in at key moments and people will be listening when he does," said Phil Musser, a former executive director at the Republican Governors Association.

Don't underestimate how important it is that Bush appears ready to re-enter the political fray.  He is the prime mover on the GOP side -- there is NO way that both he and Rubio both run for president in 2016 -- and so what he says (and doesn't) matter.

Escort says she was paid to fabricate Menendez claims: The Washington Post reported late Monday afternoon that an escort who said on video that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) paid her for sex informed Dominican authorities she was actually paid to make the claims up. The escort says she has never met or seen the Democratic senator. The woman said a local lawyer approached her and another escort about framing Menendez. That lawyer has identified another lawyer who he said provided a script.

Menendez said Monday he didn't know about the details of the new statements. “I’ve always said that these are all false," he said of the allegations the he paid for sex.

Fixbits:

President Obama's job approval rating took a tumble over the weekend, according to Gallup.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says the Senate would like to vote this week on John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) says he's earned about $1 million in public speaking fees during his seven-year tenure as mayor, but given almost all of it to charity.

North Carolina Senate President pro tem Phil Berger (R) is mulling a challenge against Sen. Kay Hagan (D).

Massachusetts Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez won't sign an agreement designed to keep outside groups from running ads in the special election campaign.

Must-reads:

"Republican goal to balance budget could mean deep cuts to health programs" -- Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

"Obama’s second-term Cabinet to play bigger policy role" -- Philip Rucker and Juliet  Eilperin, Washington Post

"Inside the NRSC's Comeback Strategy" -- Kyle Trygstad, Roll Call

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Sean Sullivan | March 4, 2013