Yesterday wasn’t the best day for Rand Paul’s efforts to transform himself from a less cranky version of his old man into a power broker and potential presidential candidate in the Republican Party. Aside from Chris Christie’s contemptuous rejection of Paul’s suggestion that they sit down over a tall cool one and resolve their war of words over foreign policy, Paul failed to make much headway in the Senate in his long-standing attempt to cut off military aid to Egypt, despite having an almost ideal set of circumstances. While Democrats united behind the administration’s position that an aid cutoff could de-stabilize Egypt, most of the floor action involved the pummeling of Paul by his Republican colleagues, prior to a 86-13 vote against his amendment to the THUD appropriations bill.
WaPo’s Dana Milbank captured the flavor of the debate:
More than a dozen senators sat or stood at their desks in the usually empty chamber, engaging Paul, who tried to rebut their points. So many wished to join the fray that Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) extended the debate.
The result reinforced the proud tradition of internationalism in the body, and in the GOP. For all the talk of a Republican civil war over foreign policy, Wednesday’s vote showed that the internationalists still dominate. McCain portrayed Paul as the heir to the America Firsters. But there has been no growth in the isolationist sentiment since March, when an amendment to restrict aid to Egypt failed, 74-25, or since September 2012, when a Paul bill to cut off aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya went down, 81-10.
The coup de grace probably occurred when Lindsay Graham read aloud a letter from AIPAC opposing the aid cutoff.
McCain needled Paul. “The question here is whether the senator from Kentucky knows what’s better for Israel, or Israel.”
Paul shook his head, reclaimed the floor and challenged the “so-called leadership” of AIPAC.
When the clerk called the roll, McCain whipped his colleagues aggressively: arguing with Dean Heller (R-Nev.) after the new senator took Paul’s side, applauding when John Hoeven (R-N.D.) voted against Paul and working over Tim Scott (R-S.C.) until the senator cried uncle. “I’m with you,” Scott said.
For the Republican internationalists, this wasn’t about winning but dominating.
Well, maybe. 13 Republicans decided to Stand with Rand on aid to Egypt. That’s just one short of the number of Republican senators who stood with McCain and Graham on immigration reform, which was supposedly a triumph of party “pragmatism” against the craziness of the House GOP. You also see some significant names supporting Paul’s amendment: Mike Lee, the majordomo of the Senate’s “constitutional conservatives,” and his boon companion Ted Cruz, a potential rival of Paul’s in 2016. There’s Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who may be counting on help from Paul in rebuffing a primary challenge from Lynn Cheney that bids fair to become a national Neocon crusade. And then there was Mitch McConnell, who has clearly decided that snuggling up to Paul is his best insurance against his own primary challenge next year.
For dedicated Paulites, this was just another vote in a long struggle against foreign policy internationalists in both parties. For the GOP as a whole, it’s unclear whether the vote pitted the dominant faction against the fringe, or the party’s past against its future.