clock menu more-arrow no yes

Does Marco Rubio have the chutzpah to roll the dice on Iran?

 Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican presidential candidate, listens to opening remarks during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican presidential candidate, listens to opening remarks during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Marco Rubio may have the chutzpah to roll the dice on Iran and Israel.

The Florida senator is weighing whether to offer an amendment requiring the president to certify that Iran has publicly recognized Israel's right to exist when he submits a nuclear deal to Congress.

The amendment could roil the debate over the Iran deal and become a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. Rubio would like to show that he's a champion for Israel, a distinction that would help him in the GOP primary and possibly in the general election.

The caveat: if it's adopted, the amendment will likely scuttle the underlying Corker-Cardin bill — due for floor consideration this week — that would give Congress a check on the Iran deal. Some Democrats would back away from a bill carrying a "poison pill" that Iran won't possibly agree to. On the other hand, if Rubio can count on enough of his colleagues to vote it down, the bill goes forward and he gets credit for standing with Israel.

AIPAC has come out against the amendment for fear that the underlying bill will die. And Democrats are worried about being put in the position of voting against the amendment to preserve the bill.

They say Rubio will need a significant number of Republicans to help vote it down, and, given the current political climate, that's a tough vote for most members of the Senate GOP caucus. Rubio chose not to offer the amendment when the bill went through the Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month.

At the time, he acknowledged his interest in allowing the bill to go to the floor.

"But," he said, "this is an issue we're going to have to talk about on the floor as we move forward." That doesn't necessarily mean he'll get the chance to offer the amendment — or, if given the chance, that he will. He could simply use floor time to bring up the matter. As he said during the committee markup, he believes the Iranians remain committed to annihilating Israel.

Putting rivals on the spot

If Rubio does offer the amendment, it will force presidential contenders Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Bernie Sanders to take positions. More important, it will likely force Hillary Clinton into taking a stand. That could be uncomfortable for her. She doesn't want to come off as anything less than a full-throated supporter of Israel. At the same time, it was officials in her State Department, including her current foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, who first made contact with Iran about a possible deal, and it is her former boss, President Obama, who is trying to secure that agreement now.

Rubio's office declined to say whether he would put it to a vote.

If he does, he risks a backlash. If the Corker-Cardin bill is killed by his amendment, there's little chance that Congress will have any say at all in an Iran nuclear deal. If he doesn't offer the amendment, it will look like he backed down.

The best-case scenario for Rubio is that the amendment gets a vote, his rivals for the presidency are forced to take positions, the amendment is voted down, and the Corker-Cardin bill survives, giving Congress a shot at approving or rejecting a nuclear deal.

Offering an amendment so you can vote for it while others kill it? Now, that's chutzpah.