Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) became the only congressional leader to oppose authorizing the use of force in Syria today. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have each made public statements in support of the president’s plans.
McConnell follows other Republican senators with 2014 primary challenges - Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, Wyoming’s Mike Enzi - and endangered red state Democrats - like Arkansas’ Mark Pryor - in becoming a public opponent of air strikes. McConnell’s primary challenger Matt Bevin said Thursday on The Daily Rundown that he “adamantly” opposes military action. “”We have absolutely no business being there,” Bevin said. “What would be the purpose?”
In opposing the intervention, McConnell also avoids a split with fellow Kentucky senator Rand Paul, whose endorsement has burnished McConnell’s tea party credentials.
McConnell explained his position the Senate floor, saying, “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play, there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria, including the fact that this proposal is utterly detached from a wider strategy to end the civil war there … Either we will strike targets that threaten the stability of the regime - something the president says he does not intend to do - or we will execute a strike so narrow as to be a mere demonstration.”
Of course, over the last 24 hours, the ground on Syria has shifted. Although the details are murky, given Syria’s offer to sign the Chemical Weapons convention, declare their chemical weapons and give them over to some outside arbiter, the Senate resolution McConnell opposes is not likely to come up for a vote in the near-term, if at all. A Bevin spokesperson responded to McConnell’s statement, “Once it looked increasingly clear that the strikes will not happen, Sen. McConnell read the tea leaves. Perhaps we should call him Follower McConnell instead of Leader McConnell.” McConnell said Russia’s proposal would be worth “exploring” but also warned, “it’s still a long way off to reaching an agreement at the United Nations.”
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows 74 percent of Americans believe it’s time for the United States to do less around the world and focus more on domestic problems. The shift among Republicans is by far most stark. In 2005, as the Iraq war was becoming unpopular, 60% of Republicans where in favor of “promoting freedom abroad”, now just 19% say that, while 77% of Republicans are in favor of “focusing on home.”
But McConnell said his position on Syria does not represent isolationism. “I have never been an isolationist. And a vote against this resolution shouldn’t be confused by anyone as a turn in that direction. But just as the most committed isolationist could be convinced of the need for intervention under the right circumstances when confronted with a threat, so too do the internationalists among us believe that all interventions are not created equal. And this proposal just does not stand up.”