Senators Rand Paul And John McCain Differ On Syria Strikes

Sep 4, 2013
Originally published on September 4, 2013 6:42 am
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When President Obama said he would ask Congress before striking Syria, some analysts called it a huge risk. The president was handing this issue to lawmakers who rarely agree on anything and have an approval rating of 15 percent.

MONTAGNE: Republicans have staged vote after vote against Obamacare, but Syria has prompted some genuine debate within the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: Republicans - including House Speaker John Boehner - say they can support U.S. action responding to the use of chemical weapons. Others passionately oppose the move. The divide is stark between two Republican senators at a hearing on Syria yesterday.

Here's NPR's Ailsa Chang.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: There on the dais sat John McCain of Arizona, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war who's been consistently pushing for more U.S. involvement in Syria. And just a couple seats away sat one of his newest colleagues: Rand Paul of Kentucky, the libertarian favorite who isn't convinced any military intervention in Syria is going to work. To them, Secretary of State John Kerry had this plea.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: McCain could not agree more, and made a point on Tuesday to highlight U.S. action would result in a weaker Syrian government.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: It was a point Kerry hit throughout yesterday's hearing, that a limited strike would effectively damage the regime in Syria. And it's a point that Rand Paul was not buying.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: Paul is one lawmaker in this Syria debate debunking the long-held assumption that the Republican Party is the party with the more aggressive foreign policy. Many conservative and libertarian Republicans are pointing to their war-weary constituents.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

CHANG: He says there's no way of knowing if the Middle East will be more or less stable with U.S. intervention, no way of knowing if Israel would be more or less likely to suffer an attack, or if Russia will get more or less involved. Kerry rubbed his eyes several times as Paul went on. The secretary tugged at his shirt collar, as if to let in air. Then he shot a question directly at Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CHANG: Boehner's Majority Leader Eric Cantor voiced his support soon after that. But it's unclear whether Boehner and Cantor will make any difference. Republicans have been bucking House leadership all year. And soon after Boehner's statement, his spokesman pointed out the speaker expected President Obama - not party leaders - to line up the votes he needed.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.