John McCain, Rand Paul bring different perspectives to Senate foreign relations committee

W. James Antle III | Managing Editor

Is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee big enough for both of them? Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Arizona Sen. John McCain are two new members of the committee for the 113th Congress.

Though they are both Republicans, Paul and McCain have clashed repeatedly over foreign policy and national security. “I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party,” McCain said when Paul was first elected. “I admire his victory, but … already he has talked about withdrawals [and] cuts in defense.”

“Calling me an ‘isolationist’ is about as accurate or appropriate as calling Senator McCain an ‘imperialist,'” Paul shot back in his book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”

The two senators have most recently sparred over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Paul said that McCain was responsible for changes to the bill that unconstitutionally left Americans vulnerable to being detained without trial if accused of terrorism. McCain’s office countered that the bill protected constitutional rights.

McCain and Paul have differed on military involvement in Libya, arming Syrian rebels, the size of the Pentagon budget, warrantless surveillance and foreign aid. Paul also opposed the Iraq War and tried to revoke its congressional authorization. McCain was a staunch supporter of the war.

Despite their disagreements, the two have collaborated on legislation in the past. But tensions between Paul and McCain escalated during the NDAA fight.

“I find it disappointing that one member of the United States Senate feels that his particular agenda is so important that it affects the lives and the readiness and the capabilities of the men and women who are serving in the military and our ability to defend this nation,” McCain said of Paul’s NDAA filibuster. “I think it’s hard to answer to the men and women in the military with this kind of behavior, but I will leave that up to the senator from Kentucky to do so.”

McCain went so far as to suggest Paul’s tactics lend “credence” to Democratic filibuster reform proposals.

“The right to due process, a trial by jury, and protection from indefinite detention should not be shorn from our Bill of Rights or wrested from the hands of Americans,” Paul said of the McCain-led conference committee report on the NDAA. “It is a dark day in our history that these rights have been stomped upon and discarded.”

Paul’s statement explicitly blamed McCain for the stomping and discarding.

“The plain language of this year’s defense authorization conference report does nothing remotely resembling what Senator Paul claims,” McCain Communications Director Brian Rogers retorted.

Although in the minority, the two are likely to use their membership on the panel to continue their debate about the proper Republican foreign policy. One issue that will loom large is the Iran: While both senators have supported some sanctions against the regime in Tehran, Paul has appeared more reluctant to consider American military force to stop any nuclear program.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez is likely to succeed Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry as chairman of the committee due to the latter’s nomination for secretary of state. Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker is replacing defeated former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar as the new ranking member.

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson have also been assigned to the Foreign Relations Committee.

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