Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio plans to help introduce an education bill this week, which could help work his way into a wider range of issues as the immigration bill he helped craft continues to meet with opposition from conservative groups.
A Rubio aide said the senator has no ulterior motives for backing the education bill and that he's always worked hard on other issues, such as education, foreign policy and national intelligence, reports The Hill.
But the current immigration bill is facing a shaky future, and as its primary Republican spokesman, Rubio could face political difficulties if it crashes and he doesn't have other bills up for consideration.
"The immigration debate is consuming an enormous amount of Rubio’s time and political capital, so I think he’s smart to strategically highlight a range of other issues," said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist with the Potomac Strategy Group. "It's risky for him to let immigration define him politically among the conservative base. They’re probably looking for smart ways to convey his conservatism on a range of issues."
Rubio is expected to support the education issue – the American Dream Account Act – this upcoming week. He supported it in the last Congress as well, but at that time, it failed to make it out of committee. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, would fund grants for organizations to use for mentoring low-income students about higher education plans and goals.
The move toward the education bill comes at a time when many of Rubio's strongest supporters are taking jabs at him over immigration. This past week, the National Review, a conservative magazine that has taken a great deal of credit for Rubio's election, ran a picture on its cover of Rubio, sitting at a press conference with Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and John McCain, R-Ariz. and a title reading “Rubio’s Folly.”
The publication's editor, Jay Nordlinger, said later the magazine still likes Rubio, but the immigration reform bill that he, three other Senate Republicans and four Democrats – also known as the Gang of 8 – created is "bad policy."
Rubio has said the immigration bill isn't perfect. He wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece Friday that the bill is a “solid starting point” but will be better with lawmakers' and public input.
Rubio's aide said the media spotlight has been focused on immigration, but the staff is working hard on other issues.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who works with Civic Forum Strategies and on McCain’s presidential bid in 2008, said Rubio is hoping to use his key role in the immigration debate to attract more moderates in 2016, is "walking a very fine line."
"Obviously he’s trying to leave himself an out by saying the Senate bill needs more work," said O'Connell. "But being the chief spokesman for Republicans is a double-edged sword — if it works, you get a lot of kudos; and if it doesn’t, he’s going to catch a lot of hell."
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