Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has built a name for himself as a foreign policy guru on Capitol Hill, a reputation that will bode well for the freshman senator if he chooses to go ahead and jump into the 2016 presidential fray in a cycle where ISIS and Iran are at the forefront.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday focused on the president's request for the Authorization to Use Military Force against ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry, however, made it clear he still thinks Rubio has a thing or two to learn.
Instead of talking strictly about an AUMF, Rubio redirected his line of questioning and accused the Obama administration of tailoring its policies in Iraq and Syria to ensure that it could get a nuclear deal with Iran. One of 47 Republicans to send a letter directly to the Iranian government discounting President Obama's authority to negotiate, Rubio has often chided Obama for taking too weak a posture with Iran.
"I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so they don't walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you are working on," Rubio said during the hearing. "Tell me why I am wrong."
Kerry quickly lobbed back, "The facts completely contradict that."
The tense exchange that followed revealed one of the difficulties many potential GOP presidential contenders will face as they gear up for 2016. While senators—unlike governors—have the advantage of serving on foreign policy committees and testing out messaging strategies on Capitol Hill, they are still removed from much of the day-to-day international negotiations. Rubio has tried to bill himself as a defense hawk, which distinguishes him from fellow freshman and likely presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., but the hearing revealed that lawmakers are vulnerable to catching the spotlight just a bit wrong when they use hearings to grandstand on an issue as fluid as nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Kerry wouldn't go into detail into exactly where Iran and the U.S. exchanges stand, citing the "delicate" nature of the talks, but he did offer a defense of the administration's negotiations with Iran and argued that Iran had not had an impact on the U.S.'s calculation on how to defeat ISIS.
"They want us to destroy ISIS. They want to destroy ISIS. ISIS is a threat to them. It is a threat to the region," Kerry said of Iran. "I think you are misreading it if you think there is not a mutual interest."
Kerry conceded that Iran might not come out and openly support a U.S. increase in ground troops in Iraq, but he did forcefully push back as Rubio continued to try to make the connection that Iran was impacting the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS. Kerry argued that internal forces in Iraq might be more of an impediment to U.S. action than Iran ever would be.
"I think this has been a misread by a lot of people on the Hill, to be honest with you. There is no grand bargain being discussed here in the context of this negotiation. This is about nuclear-weapon potential. That's it," Kerry said. "It is really almost insulting that the presumption up here is that we are going to negotiate something that allows them to get a nuclear weapon."
Rubio has been critical of the AUMF that Obama is asking for, stating that the limitations are too restrictive to really defeat ISIS. His assertion, however, that a nuclear deal was a key factor, Kerry injected, was just "flat wrong."
"A whole bunch of people are trying to give this a grade before the test has even been taken," Kerry said.