Dan McCarthy considers the meaning of Rand Paul’s assignment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
The assignment itself is encouraging for those who’d like the Republican Party to back away the hyper-interventionism associated with his now fellow committee member John McCain, but Senator Paul is caught between constituencies that can’t all be satisfied: fans of his father would like to see him take a firm and consistent non-interventionist line, while many Tea Party conservatives are happier to hear him echo the us-against-them rhetoric typical of the post-Bush GOP. Emphasizing foreign aid — detested by Ron Paul libertarians and Fox News viewers for different reasons — has allowed him to split the difference so far. The Foreign Relations assignment, however, will generate a legislative record sure to be scrutinized closely by all sides — which is probably what the Senate leadership had in mind in making this placement.
What I find most encouraging about this news is that it suggests that Sen. Paul will be involved in the routine work of the Senate on foreign affairs, and should provide a necessary counterweight to some of its more activist members. If he takes the assignment seriously, that will tell us that he wants to pay closer attention to the subject and won’t be settling for the easy, crowd-pleasing fallback of attacking foreign aid. Foreign aid-bashing is very similar in many ways to the preoccupation some conservatives have with bemoaning the evils of earmarks, which is a way of attacking “wasteful spending” without challenging any entrenched interests or strong constituencies that can inflict political damage on the critic. Sen. Paul should use his position on the committee to produce a legislative record that can be scrutinized. It’s difficult to see how he would pursue a presidential nomination in the coming years if he did not have at least one or two legislative accomplishments to his name. There will be a temptation to be little more than a time-server on the committee and to use it to propel himself to prominence, as Marco Rubio has been trying to do for the last two years, but that would be a mistake.
As Dan notes, John McCain is also joining the committee in the new Congress, and we should expect that he will use that position to continue and increase his agitation for the usual misguided and belligerent policies that he typically favors. The good news is that Bob Corker will be the Republican ranking member as expected, so the leading Republican will be someone who has been very skeptical about any form of intervention in Syria and has been interested in reviving the committee’s oversight role. Josh Rogin quoted him last year emphasizing the latter:
“I hope to be able to work with others to make the Foreign Relations Committee more relevant. We want to review everything that’s being done at the State Department, which hasn’t been done in decades,” he said. “In regard to our national interests, the Foreign Relations Committee could be a place where we look at our national interests in the context of the longer view and be a buffer against the ‘hair on fire’ mentality that can exist in White Houses.”
There will have to be elected Republicans in Congress involved in reforming Republican foreign policy if that reform is ever to take place. Having Corker and Paul on the Foreign Relations Committee is a modest but promising beginning.