WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio has made opposition to the Iran nuclear deal a focus of his re-election campaign, using it to assert that Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy is weak on the issue.
But as Rubio presents himself as an expert on Iran and the Middle East in general, his attendance problems come back into view.
During the 114th Congress, Rubio missed nearly half of the Foreign Relations Committee hearings that dealt specifically with Iran, records show.
He also skipped a number of other hearings in which issues pertaining to Iran came up, though were not the sole focus.
It adds another layer to a weak spot Rubio's rivals – Jeb Bush and other Republicans during the presidential primary and now, Democrats – have tried to exploit. In addition to missing many votes while he sought higher office, Rubio skipped out on dozens of committee hearings. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported Rubio had missed 68 percent of all hearings since taking office.Now Rubio is running again and his record is available for scrutiny, especially since he has made Iran a focus. He has used it against Murphy and the Obama administration and to generally assert his experience.
Asked about the truancy, Rubio's campaign said in a statement, "The difference between Marco and Murphy on Iran is clear. Marco opposes the dangerous Iran deal; Murphy supports it 100 percent. And despite more than $400 million in ransom payments to Iran, Murphy's support for the deal has not wavered."The campaign also noted that Murphy has a less than gold star attendance at his own committees, portending a likely response as the race heats up.
Polls show Rubio ahead.
Murphy has said little about the Iran accord, but last summer expressed support with some reservations.
"On balance, I cannot let possibilities a decade or more in the future, however troubling, outweigh the immediate benefits of this agreement," Murphy said. "Under the current sanctions Iran's breakout time to obtaining a nuclear weapon is just three months; this agreement expands that to a full year and reduces Iran's stockpiles of low-enriched uranium by 98 percentNodding to the sensitive politics surrounding the accord, Murphy added: "I believe deeply in the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. This debate has proven to me that America and Israel are fortunate to have so many passionate, diverse voices who all want the same things: a nuclear-free Iran, a secure Israel, and peace in our time."
Rubio's attendance issue has followed him from one campaign trail to another. Murphy and Democrats have tried to amplify Rubio's refusal to commit to serving a full six-year term as he could run for president again, as early as 2020.
Murphy has challenged Rubio, who broke a vow not to seek re-election, to sign a pledge that he would serve the full term."I am committed to serving in the U.S. Senate and it is a six-year term," Rubio in a recent TV interview in Florida, carefully choosing his words. "The only thing I have said is no one can tell you for sure where they are going to be five years from now because things happen in life."
Rubio's office has said that when he skips hearings he is briefed by staff and that through the Intelligence Committee he has access to classified briefings and overnight cables. An aide also pointed out he sponsored or co-sponsored "at least 26 Iran-focused bills" during the 114th Congress.