WASHINGTON (AP) — Backing President Barack Obama's plea for military action against Syria could haunt Senate Republicans thinking hard about a White House bid in 2016.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a leading anti-interventionist within the GOP ranks, was steadfast in his opposition on Tuesday, saying he was unlikely to back even a narrow resolution giving Obama the authority to respond militarily to the Syrian government.
Paul tangled with Secretary of State John Kerry at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing, repeatedly asking the top diplomat for assurances that U.S. military action wouldn't hurt Israel or destabilize the region.
A libertarian favorite, Paul also engaged in a fierce debate over the constitutional power to use military force, and whether Obama would ignore an unfavorable vote in Congress. Kerry sought to reassure Paul that the administration didn't consider congressional action meaningless.
Paul told Kerry: "If you do not say explicitly that you will abide by this vote, you're making a joke of us. You're making us into theater."
The administration says it has proof that the Assad regime used deadly chemical weapons in an attack on Damascus suburbs and must respond. It places the number killed at 1,429 people, including 426 children. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the death toll at 502.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a vocal critic of Syria's Bashar Assad and a proponent of arming the rebels, criticized the Obama administration for failing to heed his call and the pleas of others to act two years ago.
"When America ignores these problems, these problems don't ignore us," Rubio told senior administration officials at the Senate hearing. "Yes, this is a horrible incident where perhaps a 1,000 people died, but before this incident 100,000 people had died ... and nothing happened."
The Syria vote is complicated for potential Republican presidential candidates, who hardly want to appear weak on national security but fear the criticism if the United States is drawn into a protracted conflict or limited military steps prove unsuccessful in the 2-year-old civil war.