Washington (CNN)Marco Rubio took direct aim at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a speech outlining his foreign policy vision on Wednesday, calling her "dangerously negligent at worst" as secretary of state and asserting the nation "cannot afford" to elect her.
Marco Rubio: Hillary Clinton 'dangerously negligent' during State tenure
"We simply cannot afford to elect as our next president one of the leading agents of this administration's foreign policy -- a leader from yesterday whose tenure as secretary of state was ineffective at best and dangerously negligent at worst," Rubio said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
"The stakes of tomorrow are too high to look to the failed leadership of yesterday," he added, an indirect hit at both Clinton and likely GOP presidential opponent Jeb Bush.
He also slammed Clinton as "hypocritical" for endorsing international engagement but failing to speak out in support of a free trade agreement that Obama is hoping to secure. Clinton's under pressure from progressives to oppose the measure, but has been supportive of free trade agreements in the past and was first lady while her husband signed the last major international free trade agreement, NAFTA, into law.
"Those such as Secretary Clinton, who preach a message of international engagement and 'smart power,' yet are not willing to stand up to special interests and support free trade, are either hypocritical or fail to grasp trade's role as a tool of statecraft that can bolster our relationships with partners and create millions of American jobs," Rubio said.
The jabs at Clinton lent a political undertone to a largely policy-focused speech that laid out the senator's guiding principles on foreign policy and national security. In it, he drew a contrast with Obama, who he characterized as having weakened the U.S. abroad, capitulated to the demands of foreign allies and enemies alike and abandoned the idea of American exceptionalism.
"It is up to our next president to right the wrongs done by our current one," Rubio said. "It is up to our next president to properly fund and modernize our military. It is up to our next president to restore our people's faith in the promise and power of the American ideal."
The Florida Republican sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and for more than a year has looked to separate himself from competing presidential hopefuls by gaining and highlighting his expertise on foreign policy.
In a field where few presidential candidates have much national security experience, Rubio has pitched his bona fides as a way to prove he is more than just a first-term senator.
During his speech, he outlined three pillars of his foreign policy doctrine: American strength, protection of the American economy and moral clarity regarding America's core values.
Rubio advocated reversing sequestration cuts to defense spending and returning the Pentagon to its 2012 budget levels, modernizing the military and "permanently extending Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act," which allows the National Security Agency to collect Americans' phone data.
In a knock on GOP presidential opponent Rand Paul, who is working to reign in government surveillance programs and opposes extending the PATRIOT Act, Rubio asserted that "we cannot let politics cloud the importance of this issue."
He also characterized stability abroad as key to the U.S. economy, and expressed support for opening up new trade opportunities while pledging to "use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace or outer space."
And Rubio warned that on Obama's watch, "the ideals that have long formed the backbone of American foreign policy -- a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies" have been abandoned. He promised in contrast to support the spread of American ideals abroad.
The senator closed by framing the responsibility of the U.S. to remain a global leader as God-given, quoting Pope Pius the 12th as saying "into the hands of America God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind."
"I believe mankind remains afflicted, and that its destiny remains in our hands. And I believe America will continue to advance the cause of peace and freedom in our time," he said.