Aside from the regular challenges of running for president — fundraising, traveling, debating and wooing voters — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio faces a rare difficulty: The prospect of campaigning against his mentor and friend, former Gov. Jeb Bush.
But Rubio downplays that complication.
“This is not unprecedented,” Rubio told reporters Wednesday. “People who have worked together in the past, people who are friends, have ended up running for the office of the presidency.”
Rubio made his comments in a sit-down with Florida reporters in Washington where the Republican reiterated his opposition to President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba. Rubio also said Florida should fight to keep gay marriage banned by appealing adverse court rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Rubio was less eager to discuss his plans to run for president or reelection in 2016; Florida prohibits him from running for two offices on the same ballot. He’ll likely decide within three months.
Rubio also didn’t want to talk much about his relationship with Bush, which is unique in national politics. The two are neighbors. Rubio lives in West Miami. Bush lives a five-minute drive away in Coral Gables. They still chat.
“I’ve spoken to Jeb quite often and will continue to do so,” Rubio said, echoing Bush who speaks highly of Rubio. “Our relationship is a very good one.”
For years, Bush was the elder, the mentor. He was governor when Rubio was first elected to the Florida House in 2000. Rubio climbed the rungs of power until he was designated House Speaker in 2005 during a ceremony where Bush handed him a decorative samurai sword that he called “the sword of Chang.”
That made Rubio the literal and figurative sword-bearer of Bush’s legacy when he served as speaker in 2007 and 2008, during Charlie Crist’s first two years as governor. Rubio bested Crist in the 2010 senate race in which Bush endorsed Rubio over his successor.
Though Bush would likely suck away more Florida fundraising money and institutional support in a presidential race, Rubio said the former governor’s position in the contest would have no bearing on his decision.
“I just continue to believe that if you decide the best place for you to serve your country is as president of the United States, you run for that, irrespective of who else might be in the race,” Rubio said. “And he would probably give you the exact same answer.”
Another unique aspect of the potential Florida candidates for president: It’s not limited to Rubio and Bush.
“We may have four people from Florida running with Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. And I endorsed Mike Huckabee when he ran for president [in 2008],” Rubio said of the former FOX personality and Arkansas governor. Carson is a former surgeon beloved by many conservatives.
Rubio points out that neither he nor Bush is officially running for president. Yet.
Rubio has long had a political action committee, known as a leadership PAC, that could help either run for president in 2016 or reelection. It’s called Reclaim America. Bush on Tuesday filed the paperwork for a similar leadership PAC called Right to Rise, which helps position him to run for president.
“I’m not surprised by the moves he’s making. He’s a smart, experienced political person,” Rubio said of Bush. “And he’s doing what someone who’s thinking about running for president would do. And if he runs, he’s going to be a very strong candidate.”
Rubio, too, is making moves to keep him in the public eye. Next week, he releases his second book American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone.
Unlike his New York Times-bestselling autobiography, An American Son, American Dreams is more of an ideological textbook and campaign manifesto where he attacks potential opponents and presents conservative solutions to what he sees as the nation’s problems.
Where American Son dwelled on his Cuban immigrant roots, American Dreamscould assuage those conservatives outraged by his stillborn efforts in 2013 to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
"When people hear that we have over 12 million people here illegally, they feel as if we are being taken advantage of," Rubio writes. "They see how hard it is to find and keep a steady and well-paying job, and they worry that more people will mean more competition for already scarce work.”
Rubio also takes on the likely Democratic nominee for president in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is “wedded to the policies and programs of the past,” Rubio writes.
“The election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency, in short, would be nothing more than a third Obama term,” Rubio writes, calling a Clinton presidency “a death blow to the American Dream.”
Rubio and Bush both vehemently oppose the Clinton-Obama policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which the president unexpectedly announced in December.
Obama’s decision paradoxically benefited Rubio, who became the Republican face of opposition to the new policy and received wall-to-wall media coverage. RubioWednesday repeated his vow to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba or the opening of an embassy there.
“I will do everything in my power to block an embassy that is a facade. I'll do everything in my power to block an embassy that is not a real embassy,” Rubio told reporters, adding that Cuba’s government would likely not allow a U.S. ambassador the ability to travel freely on the socialist island.
In response to a reporter’s question about gay marriage, Rubio says he opposes it. He voted for the Florida constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions, which passed with 62 percent of the vote in 2008. Florida judges recently ruled it’s unconstitutional. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has fought to keep the ban on the books but has refused to say whether she’ll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rubio unequivocally said she should.
“I think that issue is going to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court either way,” Rubio said. He said the issue should be decided by voters instead of judges.
“It should be changed through the political process not through the judiciary,’ Rubio said.
Bush on Sunday made similar comments to a Miami Herald reporter but he softened his tone Monday in a written statement in which he said the courts should be respected. In contrast, Rubio made plain his dislike of gay marriage and the court decisions.
While Rubio has had sharp words for fellow senator and potential 2016 rival Rand Paul of Kentucky, he had nothing but kind words for Bush.
“I have tremendous respect and affection for Gov. Bush,” Rubio said. “If he decides to run for president, he’s going to be a very credible and strong candidate. I have no doubt about that.”