Republican rising star Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Fla.) departed for the Middle East on Saturday, beginning a journey that could do much to burnish the possible 2016 presidential candidate's foreign policy credentials.

ADVERTISEMENT
Rubio will visit Israel and Jordan and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad and Jordan's King Abdullah.

His trip comes as Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBiden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 Kerry decries ‘broken’ Washington Christine Blasey Ford has a credibility problem MORE prepares to visit the region in his inaugural trip in his new position, and ahead of President Obama's first trip to Israel in March.

“America's friendship with Israel is a truly special one, and we must continue to do all we can to support this beacon of democracy, religious freedom and free enterprise in the heart of an unstable region,” Rubio said in a statement announcing his trip.

Obama's nominee for defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelTrump’s bogus use of cyber threats to prop up coal GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal MORE (R-Neb.) has come under fire for statements critical of Israel and lobbyists for Israel, as well as for voting against tough economic sanctions against Iran.

“As Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, we must continue to apply pressure through every possible means in order to prevent a nuclear Iran,” said Rubio, who this week delivered the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address.

Rubio also highlighted that he will be visiting the United States embassy in each country. Republicans, including Rubio, voted to filibuster Hagel's nomination on Thursday in part to pressure the White House to release more information on an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Rubio serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. His star status was marred slightly this week by his awkward State of the Union response in which he gulped from a bottle of water.