Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul listens during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.National Journal

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Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would like the Obama administration to know that he won't stand to be lectured by its employees on the Constitution or foreign policy.

"This is an administration who, I believe, has trampled the Constitution in many terms. This is an administration that seeks to legislate when it is not in their purview, whether it be immigration, whether it be health care, or whether it now be a war that has been going on for eight months without congressional authorization," Paul said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday.

Being loudly at odds with the Obama administration is an asset for Paul, who has his own presidential ambitions. And Paul used his time during the hearing on the administration's request for an AUMF to go after ISIS to defend his signing of a letter to Iran that outlined the limits of the executive branch to negotiate a nuclear deal with the Iranian government. One of 47 Republican lawmakers to sign, Paul said his message wasn't intended for the ayatollah as much as it was a direct reminder to the Obama administration that Congress gets a say on foreign policy.

"I signed the letter to Iran, but you know what, the message I was sending was to you," Paul told administration officials present at the hearing. "I signed it to an administration that doesn't listen, to an administration that at every turn tries to go around Congress because you think you that you cannot get your way."

It was a brash confrontation, but one coming from a potential 2016 presidential candidate who has staked his claim far to the left of his party on foreign policy. That is a complicated place to be in an upcoming election that is sure to have a major foreign policy component. But, Paul maximized the hearing as a way to distinguish himself from his more hawkish colleagues while still maintaining miles of distance between himself and the president.

While Paul has been calling for the administration to bring forward a formal Authorization for the Use of Military Force since the Obama administration began an air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Paul did not praise the one Obama sent over in February. Instead, he rattled off a long list of problems with it.

Many in his own party consider the president's proposal too narrow to seriously degrade ISIS, but Paul—who has often struck a far more libertarian worldview than his Republican colleagues—argued Wednesday that the current language is so vague it could allow Obama to deploy thousands of troops across the globe.

"People worry about the dangers of being too confining. We are not anywhere close to that," Paul said. "Do you understand that if it were to pass as it is now that there are those of us who would worry that this would be authorizing unlimited troops in 30 different nations?"

In the hearing, Paul managed to stake out his own foreign policy island, one far from the Republican Party's mainstream, but no closer to the Obama administration, which he made clear, he does not trust. It's a balance he managed to strike Wednesday, but one that'll be hard to keep up through the campaign season.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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