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Both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul wanted to influence the foreign policy of the next Republican administration by being elected president of the United States. That didn’t happen, but as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who have been willing to show independence from the Republican who did get elected president they could still have an impact.

If all nine Democrats stick together, they need only one of the committee’s ten Republicans to vote with them to potentially scuttle any nomination. That gives Paul and Rubio outsized influence, even if they come from opposite foreign policy perspectives.

Rubio, freshly re-elected to the Senate from Florida, has been an early and outspoken skeptic of President-elect Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. If he opposes Tillerson outright, the foreign relations committee may not recommend the nominee to the full Senate.

“While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination,” Rubio said in a statement. “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage. I look forward to learning more about his record and his views.‎”



The Florida Republican had previously tweeted that being “a ‘friend of Vladimir Putin’ is not an attribute I am hoping for” in a secretary of state. Rubio is referring to an award Tillerson received from the Russian president.

Paul, who just won a second term in Kentucky, is keeping an “open mind” on Tillerson. But he was willing to block Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and anyone he believed hadn’t learned that the Iraq war was a mistake.

The Kentuckian hasn’t let up on Bolton even after the Tillerson nomination. “My main concern though is that his undersecretary not be John Bolton,” Paul told Fox News Tuesday. “I think Bolton has not understood the historical significance of the Iraq War. He is still an advocate for regime change and nation-building, so my hope is that he will not come forward as the undersecretary.”

At one point, it looked like the foreign policy differences between the two early Tea Party heroes would be a dominant theme in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Rubio and Paul sometimes sparred during the debates, but the crowded stage, Trump’s dominance and the failure of either senator to make it very far in the primaries kept all their foreign-policy clash from materializing.

As the incoming Republican administration takes shape, Rubio and Paul will both get a second chance. Trump has expressed some non-interventionist sentiments that are more in line with Paul’s views, but is no civil libertarian. The president-elect has also shown a willingness to have appointees who represent a wide range of Republican views.

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Rubio has more allies among Senate Republicans for his preferred activist foreign policy, with John McCain and Lindsey Graham arguably the most important. During the primaries, Rubio sometimes portrayed Paul and Ted Cruz as isolationists while he dismissing Trump as not especially informed.

Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee have often aligned with Paul on foreign policy and civil liberties, but neither agrees with him as completely as McCain and Graham agree with Rubio. But on the dangers of regime change in the Middle East, his most influential Republican ally may live in the White House.

“What I’ve said all along is that I agree with Donald Trump that nation-building hasn’t made us safer,” Paul said Tuesday. “It’s been very expensive and hasn’t worked. Regime change hasn’t worked in the Middle East. The Iraq war was a strategic failure.”

“I want someone to be at secretary of state who agrees with Donald Trump on those key issues because this is an ongoing process where people are still advocating for toppling the Assad regime as if regime change will make things better there,” Paul added.

Rubio hasn’t said yet that he wants Trump’s appointees to necessarily reflect his overall foreign policy. His criticisms of Tillerson are specific to the businessman’s relations with Russia, a matter of heightened concern after the allegations Moscow sought to influence the presidential election through hacking.

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Both senators represent states that voted for Trump in November. Rubio ran ahead of Trump in Florida, while Paul’s Kentucky was one of Trump’s strongest states. But both also have national constituencies who would support them in their efforts to promote their preferred foreign policies.

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