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Republicans pick Rubio to respond to Obama's speech to Congress

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 201
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 201

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Marco Rubio, a favorite of conservatives and an advocate for reforming the nation's immigration laws, has been chosen to give the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's speech to Congress next week.

The Cuban-American lawmaker from Florida will deliver the response to Obama's State of the Union speech in English and Spanish, Republican leaders said, a move that plays to the growing clout of Hispanics in the United States.

Obama is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on February 12 and is expected to lay out his policy priorities, including giving millions of illegal immigrants, the majority of who are from Latin America, a way to become a U.S. citizen.

Rubio, who is often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, has come out in favor of giving the some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States a chance at citizenship, provided border security is strengthened, among other requirements.

His involvement has bolstered lawmakers' efforts to change immigration laws by providing cover to other Republicans and winning support from influential conservatives who have historically opposed a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented.

Rubio is one of four Republicans working on an immigration reform bill with four Democrats in the Senate. The bipartisan group of senators unveiled its framework for an immigration overhaul last week and is aiming to introduce legislation as early as March.

In announcing Rubio to give the response to Obama's speech, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the senator's conservative principles but did not mention immigration reform.

(Reporting By Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Paul Simao)

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