On Day Two of the first government shutdown in 17 years, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida held a press conference on flood-insurance reform. He left early, passing up the chance to toss out headline-making quotes on the budget standoff.
On Day Three, he endorsed a little-known Pasco County Republican running for the Florida House.
His last national media appearance was eight days ago.
Meanwhile, his Republican colleague and possible presidential rival in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, is the man of the hour. He grabbed the national spotlight with a 21-hour stand on the Senate floor last week and hasn’t let go. The media blitz seems to be paying off: Cruz’s poll numbers rose as he drove his party toward the shutdown. Meanwhile, Rubio’s star has fallen after passing a bipartisan immigration-reform bill in June, even though he spent much of the last couple months rallying support for defunding the health care law in the federal budget.
“Ted Cruz is new, and he’s a rock star,” said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. “I just think health care is a much bigger issue for most Americans than immigration.”
Two conservative Republican senators, two potential paths to the White House. Cruz, who during nine months in office has made at least a half-dozen trips to early-primary states, is riding the wave. Rubio, whose last visit to an early-voting state was Iowa in November, is playing the long game. His allies dismiss the early polling and argue that letting Cruz be the poster boy for the government shutdown might not be such a bad idea.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who partnered with Rubio on immigration reform, said Thursday: “You’re looking at a snapshot of a couple of days of something. I always felt that Sen. Rubio will benefit from his serious work on a substantive issue, and I still think he will.”
Flake added, “Winning the presidency is about winning a general, not just a primary.”
Asked why he hasn’t been more outspoken this week, Rubio said he’s “more than happy to share his views” with House Republicans that the health care law will damage the economy and Democrats are to blame for the budget impasse. Rubio said he supports the effort by House Republicans to pass short-term funding for veterans, the National Park Service, and the D.C. government.
Rubio joined Cruz during his marathon speech on the Senate floor to show his support.
“People know where I stand on the issue,” Rubio said Thursday after leaving a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran’s nuclear program. “There’s not legislative action, there isn’t anything happening, there’s nothing to speak out on.”
That hasn’t stopped other prominent conservative Republicans like Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky from holding court with reporters day after day. Paul hosted a “bipartisan coffee” Thursday on the steps of the Senate that attracted more than a couple dozen reporters and only a handful of elected officials.
“The more you pick a fight with Washington, the better you look out in the country,” said Republican consultant David Kochel, who ran Mitt Romney’s campaign in the 2012 Iowa caucus. “Sen. Cruz has got a hot hand right now with a certain part of the grassroots that is really charged up, but we still have to wait for this to play out. I think in the end Sen. Rubio will get credit from the part of the party that’s more interested in making sure things work than these symbolic protests.”
American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, who’s known Rubio for more than a decade, said his style is to be more collegial, while Cruz seems to relish confrontations with fellow Republicans worried about the negative fallout from the shutdown. Rubio’s relationships with other senators could be valuable if he decides to run for national office.
“You will never see Rubio taking on his colleagues head on,” Cardenas said. “That’s not a place of comfort for him.”
Henry Barbour, a Mississippi committeeman who helped lead a Republican National Committee post-mortem of the 2012 election, said no one should count Rubio out just because he’s keeping a lower profile these days. The fate of his immigration bill rests in the House, which is resistant to a sweeping approach that would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship. Rubio spent months negotiating the fine print and pitching the bill.
“We’re in the era of presidential politics by cable news,” Barbour said. “Rubio is still going to have a bite at the apple if he runs because he’s a serious guy. There are people who make noise and get attention but if the substance isn’t there, they’re going to fade.”
The latest poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Cruz climbing eight percentage points since July to the top of the 2016 Republican primary heap. He received 20 percent support, compared to Rubio with only 10 percent. A recent Quinnipiac University poll of the potential 2016 field showed Rubio down seven percentage points from April to 12 percent. Cruz wasn’t even included in the April survey; now he’s at 10 percent.
“Cruz gets more attention and perhaps a higher reward because he was so visible for so long during that speech on the floor,” said Keith Appell, who advises conservative Republicans. “I knew when I was watching that speech that he would shoot right to the top of the polls. And lo behold he has. Does it argue for being more visible? Yes.”
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"The Senate standstill over a stopgap spending bill appeared headed toward a resolution on Friday night. Senators who were holding up the measure said votes are expected later in the evening. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin had raised objections to the continuing resolution because it did not include a full year's extension of retired coal miners' health benefits," but Manchin "said he and other coal state Democrats agreed with Senate Democratic leaders during a caucus meeting Thursday that they would not block the continuing resolution, but rather use the shutdown threat as a way to highlight the health care and pension needs of the miners."
Donald Trump transition team announced Friday afternoon that top supporter Rudy Giuliani has taken himself out of the running to be in Trump's cabinet, though CNN previously reported that it was Trump who informed the former New York City mayor that he would not be receiving a slot. While the field had seemingly been narrowed last week, it appears to be wide open once again, with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson the current favorite.
Given the Senate's inaction on the continuing budget resolution (so far), the White House "said it has begun to work with agencies to prepare for the possibility of a large swath of the federal workforce being furloughed without pay beginning at midnight." Even if a shutdown occurs, however, "Senate procedures will allow the chamber to approve the CR with only a handful of Democrats in support by Sunday morning. Of the roughly 900,000 federal employees who were subject to furloughs in agencies’ most recent calculations, most would not be materially impacted as they do not work on weekends."
The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.