Rubio to give response to Obama's State of the Union

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Senator Marco Rubio has been tapped to give the Republican response to President Barack Obama's upcoming State of the Union address, party leaders said on Wednesday, boosting his stature as a rising national heavyweight.

Mr Rubio, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Cuba, will deliver the address Tuesday in both English and Spanish, minutes after Mr Obama concludes his annual speech to both chambers of Congress.

The charismatic first-term senator from Florida "is one of our party's most dynamic and inspiring leaders. He carries our party's banner of freedom, opportunity and prosperity in a way few others can," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

"He'll deliver a GOP address that speaks from the heart to the hopes and dreams of the middle class; to our party's commitment to life and liberty; and to the unlimited potential of America when government is limited and effective."

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr Rubio was "a natural choice to deliver the Republicans' alternative to the administration's reliance on government and debt."

Mr Rubio had been considered a potential 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate to join nominee Mitt Romney on the ticket. Mr Rubio insisted he was not interested, and Mr Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan instead.

But from virtually the day Mr Obama won re-election last November, the talk of Mr Rubio as a 2016 presidential candidate has only grown louder.

Mr Rubio, 41, said he is embracing the challenge of offering the Republican response in the national spotlight, and extolling the virtues of limited government and free enterprise.

"I look forward to laying out the Republican case of how our ideas can help people close the gap between their dreams and the opportunities to realise them," he said in a statement.

The responsibility is not without risk, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal can attest.

Mr Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, was given the task to rebut Mr Obama's first State of the Union speech in 2009.

But his response was widely panned as amateurish, and Mr Jindal irked politicians on both sides of the aisle with broad criticism of government just as the United States was struggling to climb out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.