The congressional Republican retreat has been packed full of speakers, planning sessions and intraparty squabbling, but it’s missing two key GOP figures: Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
Both skipped the retreat, choosing politicking over party planning as they contemplate potential 2016 presidential bids.
Paul stopped in New Hampshire, Arizona and Nevada this week to meet with supporters. Rubio spent the first half of the week on a media blitz for his new book, and during the latter half he reportedly plans to meet with donors.
The decision to hit the road rather than the retreat is one partially borne of practical necessity. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s announcement of plans to “actively explore” a presidential bid has accelerated the decision-making timeline for many in the field, and now’s the time for potential candidates to travel the country, gauging support and lining up staff and donors before they decide.
But it’s also one that could pay off politically for the three potential candidates most likely to get bogged down by Congress’ dismal approval ratings.
A January Gallup survey gave the new Congress a 16% approval rating, unchanged from December and near all-time lows.
With numbers like that, any Capitol Hill lawmaker running for president will have to make the case that he or she has been working to fix Washington’s problems, rather than contributing to them. A weekend away from the full-party meeting, where lawmakers are plotting their policy priorities and plans for the new Congress, can’t hurt in making that case.
One of the trio of senators expected to run for president was in attendance at the event, however: Sen. Ted Cruz, typically seen as the least likely to go along with party protocol on Capitol Hill, joined his colleagues in Hershey, Pa.