Republican U.S. senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul argued today for lower taxes as they presented distinctly different styles in wooing their party’s base ahead of possible 2016 presidential bids.
“For liberty to expand, government must shrink,” Paul, who represents Kentucky, said to applause at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “For the economy to grow, government must get out of the way.”
Rubio, who, like Paul, is a favorite of the anti-tax tea party movement, told the audience at the conference just outside Washington that mutual respect is required in U.S. politics, if there is to be compromise.
“Just because I believe that states have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,” he said. “The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.”
Rubio also said he opposed any additional federal taxes as part of the debate on reducing federal deficits. “There is no tax increase in the world that will solve our long-term debt problem,” he said.
Although he’s viewed as a Republican leader on the issue of immigration, Rubio made no significant mention of immigration policy. He also predicted that he’d be criticized by Democrats for not offering more new ideas.
“We don’t need a new idea,” he said. “There is an idea. The idea is called America and it still works.”
Paul was more critical of his own party and President Barack Obama than Rubio.
“We need a Republican Party that shows up on the south side of Chicago and shouts at the top of our lungs, we are the party of jobs and opportunity” and the “ticket to the middle class,” Paul said, referring to a neighborhood that has long been home to mostly blacks.
His party has “has grown stale and moss-covered,” Paul said, adding, “I don’t think we need to name any names.”
Rubio and Paul are the first of the Republicans often mentioned in lists of potential presidential candidates in 2016 to speak at the conference.
In 2010, the CPAC event offered Rubio, 41, a springboard after he delivered a well-received speech and was labeled a rising star among those with tea party support. He won his Senate seat later that year.
Rubio has been engaging in many of the same activities that Obama, as a senator from Illinois, undertook in preparing for his 2008 presidential bid. These include a foreign policy trip, frequent media appearances, and building a messaging operation that includes presidential campaign veterans.
Paul, 50, arrived at the convention with the most momentum among the 2016 prospects, following a 13-hour filibuster last week on the Senate floor against Obama’s nominee for CIA director and the administration’s secret drone program.
As he took the stage, Paul dropped two spiral notebooks stuffed with papers onto a side table and joked that he’d only been given 10 “measly” minutes to speak — yet had brought 13 hours worth of speaking material.
The annual CPAC gathering of the party’s dominant and sometimes divisive wing that’s aligned with the tea party movement comes as Republican leaders are working to reshape their brand and become more competitive in state and national elections. A Republican National Committee panel is expected to unveil some recommended changes for the party, from technological to messaging, on March 18.
The juxtaposition of the two events highlights internal divisions over style and substance, including policy positions on same-sex marriage, immigration, and tax and spending matters, and testing the degree to which the party base is willing to change. The CPAC sessions may draw as many as 8,000 party activists.
Republicans often point to their control of 30 governorships — the most since 2000 — when challenged about the party’s future. Yet most of those state leaders weren’t invited to speak before the CPAC meeting — including all the governors who have said they will seek federal funds provided by Obama’s healthcare law for expansion of Medicaid, which serves the poor. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives still assert that the healthcare law should be repealed, as do many tea party activists.
Among those excluded are two governors considered potential presidential contenders — Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. McDonnell, whose state is a brief drive across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from the CPAC gathering in Oxon Hill, Md., will speak in the convention hotel during a prayer breakfast sponsored by another group.
Al Cardenas, chairman of the Washington-based American Conservative Union, which sponsors the gathering, dismisses the criticism he received in Republican circles over those not invited, saying he chose “all-stars” from among the party’s governors.
Opening the limited-government conference today, Cardenas said Republicans must eliminate the “liberal nightmare” the nation faces. He outlined three requirements to reach that goal.
“First, the Republican Party needs to be a conservative party, with no apologies,” he said. “We must recruit candidates who are not only principled conservatives, but articulate as well. If we don’t have candidates who can communicate these principles well, we’re going to lose election after election.”
Republicans also must “embrace the changing demographics of America, not by diluting our principles, but by reaching out to all Americans,” Cardenas said.
His hand-picked governors scheduled to speak at the three-day conference include Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Perry of Texas. Other potential 2016 presidential candidates speaking include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.
Christie, 50, who has expressed interest in a White House bid, has angered some fellow Republicans in recent months by praising Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy disaster response and for criticizing U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and his Republican-controlled chamber for delays in approving federal storm assistance. He was in the group’s favor as recently as June, when he spoke in suburban Chicago at a regional CPAC conference.
McDonnell, 58, upset some Republicans for sponsoring Virginia transportation legislation that increases taxes. He also negotiated an agreement with state Democrats to establish a panel to make recommendations about accepting Medicaid expansion funds from Washington.
Bush, 60, arrives following a week in which questions were raised about conflicting statements he has made on immigration, an issue closely watched by CPAC attendees.
The former Florida governor proposes in a new book that many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States be offered “permanent legal resident status” instead of citizenship. That’s counter to his past position, as well as that of a bipartisan group of senators — including Rubio — studying legislation that would allow a pathway to citizenship.
Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, is a leading voice in his party, especially on immigration and Hispanic politics. He clarified his position last week by saying he is open to allowing undocumented immigrants a route to citizenship, so long as it is done in a way that doesn’t penalize those who have followed the rules.
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