McConnell on Syria: Following from Behind

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 and is filed under Blog, Foreign Policy, News

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The debate over the ridiculous Syria intervention is a superlative example of Mitch McConnell’s modus operandi in the Senate.  Despite his status as leader of the Republican conference, McConnell fails to lead on the most contentious issues, even those for which the public strongly sides with conservatives.  He waits until the very end, when the bill is no longer in dispute or is destined to pass, in order to voice his opinion.  Throughout the process, he declines to whip up support for the conservative positions – the entire purpose of being party leader.

The question conservatives should be asking is what is the purpose of being floor leader if McConnell is always going to wait until the issue is already won or lost to take a position – much less attempt to marshal support from others?  Here are some of the headlines from the past week:

“On Syria, McConnell Remains Lone Hill Leader on the Fence

“Sen. Mitch McConnell mum, Sen. Rand Paul rails on Syria attack

“Mitch McConnell: Capitol Hill’s last undecided party leader on Syria”

“Vulnerable Senators Straddle The Syria Fence

Taken as a whole, instead of waking up every day to see how he can best fight for Americans, McConnell spends his time plotting the path of least resistance that will best preserve his power, while concurrently retaining his image as a conservative. 

  • Aug. 31 : “Today the President advised me that he will seek an authorization for the use of force from the Congress prior to initiating any combat operations against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons. The President’s role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.” [Mitch McConnell Press Release, 8/31/13]
    • September 3 : “I appreciate the President’s briefing today at the White House and would encourage him to continue updating the American people,” McConnell said in a statement after the White House meeting that included ranking members of Congress.

“While we are learning more about his plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done – and can be accomplished – in Syria and the region.” [Washington Post, Why Mitch McConnell’s Not John Boehner on Syria,” 9/3/13]

  • Sept. 4: “I’m not just instinctively opposed to military action,” the Louisville Republican said. “I supported the Afghan war, and I supported the Iraq war. Certainly we need to be careful about doing it. I don’t think anybody supports putting any American military personnel there at all.”

McConnell said he would announce his position on Syria “in the coming days.” [WFPL, McConnell to Make Syria Decision in ‘Coming Days,’ Feels Certain about No Boots on the Ground, 9/4/13]

  • Sept. 9: After the tide turns decisively against intervention in Syria, and a number of prominent Republicans begin to oppose it, McConnell announces via John Cornyn that he will not be whipping either way on the vote.
  • On that same day, Harry Reid opened the post-August recess session with Leader remarks on Syria.  He compared the situation on the ground to the Nazis in the Holocaust.  Normally, such a speech would illicit sharp rebuke from the other leader – the GOP leader – in morning remarks.  However, McConnell was absent, relying on Dan Coats to give the opposing view.  McConnell’s absence was all the more poignant given the fact that this was the opening day of the new legislative session.  Obviously, he was unable to give the opposing view because he either privately agrees with Reid or has no definitive view.
  • On the evening of September 9, when the tide had turned so swiftly that Harry Reid was forced to delay the cloture vote, as if on cue, McConnell tells reporters he is “leaning no.”  Nothing had changed on the ground in Syria or with Obama’s plans since the previous week other than a sharp turn in opinion both inside and outside of Congress.
  • Sept. 10: At 10 am, after the resolution is completely dead and no longer in dispute, McConnell gives his typical mealy-mouthed speech, full of extraneous matter and non sequiturs – still failing to categorically oppose the intervention, but declares his intention to vote no.