McConnell: GOP Would Not Voice Opposition To Libya Campaign If Obama Was A Republican

The NATO-led air campaign in Libya is causing a significant rift within the GOP. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Republicans have said the U.S. involvement violates the War Powers Act and are moving forward with a vote to cut off funding for “hostilities” in Libya this week as a “rebuke of President Obama’s handling of the mission.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ), however, warned that cutting off funds would “be a lifeline to a weakened” Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi and introduced a bipartisan resolution this week to give Obama authority to conduct the campaign for one year. McCain warned Republicans to “think long and hard about challenging a Democratic president’s authority, saying it could haunt a future president who might be a Republican.”

Speaking with reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) acknowledged that there are “clearly divisions” in the GOP over the “constitutionality” and “cost” of the Libyan campaign. However, in a moment of rare candor, McConnell noted that his colleagues might not be so quick to denounce the president if he were a Republican. Asked if he was concerned about “the isolationist streak of some in the Republican Party,” McConnell said, “There is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side”:

MCCONNELL: The only thing I can tell you at this point is that there are differences. I’m not sure that these kind of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president. But I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to mute them. So yeah, I think there are clearly differences and I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to express their reservations which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.

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TPM’s Brian Beutler notes that “McConnell’s likely trying to send a signal to dissident members to simmer down.” As for his own opinion, McConnell is deferring to McCain’s view of the Libyan effort, saying he’s “paying attention to one of my senior members who knows a whole lot about the subject.”

House Republicans are showing no signs of simmering and are likely to vote on the resolution to cut off funds, as well as another resolution to authorize the intervention, as soon as tomorrow. House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) says this vote will “send the message to future presidents that you’re not just going to have carte blanche ability to pick fights all over the world without the Congress weighing in on it.”