Jeb Bush poses new hurdle to Marco Rubio's road to the White House

Marco Rubio says Bush announcement won't affect his 2016 decision

Jeb Bush's first step toward a possible White House bid appeared to instantly complicate one Republican's 2016 calculations more than others: Marco Rubio.

Rubio, a fellow Floridian whose rise in state politics was aided by the former governor, was a marked man at the Capitol on Tuesday as soon as Bush announced via Facebook that he would "actively explore" a presidential candidacy. But the senator was nowhere to be found for most of the day, avoiding the typical staging grounds for reporters eager to ask what Bush's decision means for his future.

When he finally arrived for afternoon votes, the senator offered only a personalized version of a statement his spokesman had issued hours earlier.

"I have a lot of respect for Gov. Bush and I think he'll be a very formidable candidate if he decides to run. But from my perspective, my decision's going to be based on where I can best advance my agenda for restoring the American dream," he said.

Asked whether Bush had reached out to share his forthcoming announcement, Rubio continued racing up a senators-only staircase and said only that he doesn't "talk about private conversations with anybody."

Other Republicans, buoyed by a successful election cycle that will put them in the majority next year, largely welcomed Bush's announcement. Lamar Alexander, a former governor who also ran for president, said it bodes well for the party that "someone of Jeb’s caliber" would move toward running.

"It's time for Republicans who want to be president of the United States to make that known," the Tennessee senator said. "Jeb Bush has the kind of proven executive leadership that our country is hungry for. So do some other Republicans who may run."

"He is a well-respected former governor who certainly will be a tier-one candidate," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who spent some time with Bush this fall campaigning for successful Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner in Colorado.

Corker said he understands the reservations some people have about another Bush running for president, but said Jeb Bush is "a very different person" from his brother, George W. Bush.

"He's had different life experiences in many ways … and I think very quickly people will understand there’s a differentiation there," Corker said. "That's not in any way to say one's better or worse or whatever."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming majority leader, said he wished Bush well but noted that the road ahead gets only tougher.

"I always tell all of the candidates for president that the best day they'll have will be the day before they announce," he said.

The last election showed, McConnell added, that Americans "might want to go in a different direction" than Obama has led them in. "So I'm optimistic that whoever the nominee is, we'll have a good chance of winning."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had advice for Bush in navigating a Republican primary electorate that has grown more restless since he last ran for public office: "Be true to yourself."

"The problem is that in our primary field, it’s not about the times that you agree; it’s about the one in 10 times that you disagree," he said. "I don’t think it’s good for the country. The test for some isn’t, do you agree with me on the issue? It’s, do you hate who I hate?"

But Graham, whose state hosts the first southern presidential primary, indicated he was thinking more about his own potential 2016 plans than Bush’s.

"I think I’ve got something unique to offer," he said, citing a record as a pragmatic conservative and experience on national security issues. "I’ve got to figure out in my own mind pathways and timing and opportunities. I am not there yet, but what drives my thinking is I do think I’ve got something unique to the country dealing with the threats we face. Stay tuned."

Jim Puzzanghera contributed to this report.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

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