By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Thursday rejected a contention from Republican rival Marco Rubio that a governor would not be able to manage U.S. foreign policy if elected president in an early sign of their 2016 battle to come.
Bush, who is exploring a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, sought to allay concerns about his conservative credentials at a forum run by a conservative magazine, National Review.
Rubio, a first-term Florida senator, has gained some early momentum in his own race for the Republican nomination for the 2016 election by touting his foreign policy credentials, which includes membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Governors can certainly read about foreign policy, and take briefings and meet with experts, but there is no way they’ll be ready on Day One to manage U.S. foreign policy," Rubio told the Des Moines Register last weekend.
Bush, who has avoid criticizing Rubio to date, was asked about whether governors could in fact conduct foreign policy. Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.
"Wow. Let me think. Ronald Reagan?" he said, referring to the 1980s Republican president who had been governor of California.
"You can be prepared from Day One from being a governor," he said.
And in a jab intended for senators who like Rubio and Rand Paul are either in the 2016 or thinking about getting in, Bush added that governors "can't hide behind the collective skirt and say, 'well, I passed an amendment about this..."
"They actually have to lead. They have to make decisions. They have to convince. They actually have to compromise from time to time," he said.
Bush also quibbled with Rubio's attempt to amend Senate legislation that is seeking to ensure Senate oversight of President Barack Obama's proposed nuclear deal with Iran.
Rubio wants the legislation to include a requirement that Iran recognize Israel's right to exist.
"I understand the sentiment," Bush said. "I don't know if that kills the bill, you have no oversight."
Rubio has cast himself as a fresh face who could move the country past the Bush and Clinton dynasties that have led American politics for decades and are seeking to again.
Bush has struggled with some conservatives by pushing a more moderate stance on immigration. In his National Review appearance, he stuck to his position that illegal immigrants should have the ability to earn legal status.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; editing by Andrew Hay)