Senators attended a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, led by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and chief Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman. Lawmakers were able to receive detailed, classified information and ask questions of the Obama administration officials who helped reach the diplomatic deal.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn’t show up. He was at a campaign rally in Cleveland.
Also yesterday, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee received a closed-door, 90-minute discussion with the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would play a key role in carrying out Iranian inspections.
Marco Rubio skipped that one, too.
It’s an unavoidable truth that when sitting U.S. senators run for president, they spend a lot of time away from their official day-to-duties. It’s just a practical, bipartisan reality – John Kerry spent a lot of time on the campaign trail, instead of Capitol Hill, in 2003 and 2004, and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain did the same in 2007 and 2008.
But Rubio isn’t just missing occasional, inconsequential votes. The far-right Floridian has made national security his signature issue, and he’s missing opportunities to learn what he’s talking about. Indeed, it was ironic to learn that Rubio was reportedly bashing the nuclear agreement during an event in Ohio yesterday, even while missing a classified briefing on the nuclear agreement itself.
Ohio may be home to tonight’s debate, but it doesn’t hold its Republican presidential primary until March 15, 2016. Rubio had time to go to work yesterday – Rand Paul is running for president, but he was in D.C. yesterday – and probably should have. There’s nothing wrong with Rubio having firm opinions on key issues related to national security, but those opinions might be better grounded if the senator received more information.
Politico reported last week that the Florida Republican “has been absent more often than other senators seeking the White House.”
Rubio has skipped votes during high-profile fights over national security, trade, energy and education policy. He has missed private hearings during a critical stage in the Iran talks, a public forum on China and a private briefing on the U.S. strategy on the Islamic State. Last month, a California congressional candidate tweeted a picture with Rubio in Los Angeles on the same day the Florida senator missed a closed-door Foreign Relations Committee session on Iran and a procedural vote on the Export-Import Bank’s future, a flash point in the presidential campaign.
Just so we’re clear, there’s some surface-level interest in absenteeism as a general issue, but I think the deeper concern is that Rubio has repeatedly struggled with the basics of foreign policy and national security, issues he unfortunately chose as the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio is in a unique position to develop real expertise on these issues – the kind of depth of knowledge that few, if any, national GOP candidates can match – but that only works if the senator actually shows up, listens, and learns. Having access to information is useless if members hit the campaign trail rather than getting their facts straight.
If anyone could stand to spend a little more time in closed-door briefings, brushing up on the details, it’s Marco Rubio.