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As Congress debates whether to authorize President Barack Obama’s plan to strike the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers have staked out clear positions supporting or opposing the attack. One glaring exception is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, who faces a bruising reelection fight in 2014, has so far done no more than request more information from Obama. “While we are learning more about Obama’s plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done—and can be accomplished—in Syria and the region,” McConnell said on Tuesday.
McConnell’s muted comments on Syria aren’t surprising. The debate has him in a bind. The House Republican leadership backs Obama’s call for a limited strike in response to the Assad regime’s presumed use of chemical weapons, as does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). But McConnell’s Republican primary opponent, Matt Bevin, opposes any Syrian intervention, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky and tea party darling to whom McConnell has been paying plenty of political deference, is leading the charge against the resolution. Moreover, the grassroots conservatives and tea partiers McConnell has heavily courted since launching his reelection bid feel the same way. And tea party leaders in the state have a blunt warning for McConnell: Vote for an attack on Syria, and your already dismal standing among our ranks will decline further.
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