Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is up for re-election in 2014. / J. Scott Applewhite, AP
WASHINGTON - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell broke ranks with congressional leaders Tuesday, saying he won't support a military strike on Syria because there are no indications it would change conditions there - and could make them worse.
"This proposal just does not stand up," a harshly critical McConnell said in Senate floor remarks, adding "I have never been an isolationist. And a vote against this resolution shouldn't be confused by anyone as a turn in that direction."
McConnell, R-Ky., was the last of the four top party leaders in Congress to announce his position on President Obama's call for airstrikes against Syria over the regime's use of chemical weapons. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., all support the administration's request.
McConnell also has placed himself opposite other key Republicans on Syria, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
McConnell, who is running for re-election in 2014, said Syria's chemical-weapons use does not represent a national security risk to the United States. Further, he argued, military action "is utterly detached from a wider strategy to end the civil war there."
McConnell said Obama's plan to respond with air strikes on Syria "appears to be based on a contradiction."
"Either we will strike targets that threaten the stability of the regime - something the president says he does not intend to do - or we will execute a strike so narrow as to be a mere demonstration," McConnell said.
Meanwhile, another Kentucky lawmaker who is leaning against the attacks, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, was among a group who met with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday. Yarmuth said he strongly supported new efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had a similar meeting with Biden on Monday. But Coats said Tuesday he did not believe a military strike "is in the direct national security interests of the United States."
"This horrific act demands a worldwide response of condemnation," Coats said. "However, the president has not justified his request to engage the United States militarily in Syria."
Against the backdrop of one of the most-watched Senate races in the country, McConnell's comments drew almost immediate fire from Democratic challenger and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, as well as from GOP opponent Matt Bevin.
"It is astonishing that Senator McConnell has abdicated his leadership responsibility and not led throughout this important debate," Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst said.
Grimes said two weeks ago that the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons was "reprehensible and inexcusable and must be addressed."
"Limited missile strikes against select military targets could send a message to (Syrian leader Bashar) Assad while reducing the risk of escalation that would pull the U.S. into Syria's civil war," she said.
Bevin, who opposes strikes, issued a statement saying McConnell was "coming off the sidelines" after it was clear public sentiment was against any attack.
"Once it looked increasingly clear that the strikes will not happen, Senator McConnell read the tea leaves," Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand said. "Perhaps we should call him Follower McConnell instead of Leader McConnell."
In recent news interviews, Bevin questioned the military purpose of a U.S. strike. "There's absolutely no end game in mind," he said.
In announcing his opposition to military action against Syria, McConnell assailed Obama's foreign policy, saying the president has shown "timid, reluctant leadership."
"If this episode has shown us anything, it's that the time has come for the president to finally acknowledge that there's no substitute for American might," McConnell said.
Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com
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