Beltway Confidential

Syria vote divides Tea Party from GOP old bulls again

Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Tea Party,Rand Paul,Ted Cruz,Mike Lee

Tea Party senators once again find themselves at odds with some of the "old bulls" of the Republican Party, though the politics of the Syria strike aren't as dramatic as the spring talking filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Even the classified case for the Syria strike isn't swaying Tea Party senators to support military intervention, though President Obama has some allies among more hawkish Republicans.

"After hearing from the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in a top-secret briefing, I do not believe that the range of options the president is considering will accomplish this military objective, and therefore I cannot now support intervention into the Syrian civil war," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement Thursday morning.

Lee's opposition places him alongside familiar allies such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who also oppose striking Syria in response to dictator Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons to attack the opposition groups that have warred with his regime for the last two years.

"I am greatly concerned that in order to achieve the president’s goal, the U.S. would be required to become much more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war than the administration is willing to commit," Lee explained. "The real threat to U.S. credibility is not what happens if we don’t intervene, but what happens if we do without a plan for what comes next."

Even Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has more hawkish foreign policy views -- the interventionist former Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., (who voted for the Iraq war and supported the Libya intervention), took Rubio under his wing during their time in the Senate together -- voted against hitting the Assad forces.

"[W]hile I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of U.S. military force in the conflict," Rubio said to explain his Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria. "After a few days of missile strikes, it will allow Assad, for example, to emerge and claim that he took on the United States, and survived."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Rubio's recent ally in the immigration debate and Foreign Relations colleague, voted in favor the resolution after passing an amendment "ensuring that any U.S. military operations in Syria are part of a broader strategy to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who joined McCain in criticizing the Paul-Lee-Cruz triumvirate when they filibustered against President Obama's drone strike policy, also hopes the U.S. will intervene against Assad.

"I don't want an open-ended, unlimited military campaign," Graham told reporters in South Carolina Tuesday. "I'm not supporting a 'check the box strike.' I want a strike that will degrade Assad's ability to deliver chemical weapons and change the tide of battle."

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