Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scored a victory Wednesday when the Senate — including 48 of the chamber’s 50 Republicans — voted overwhelmingly to admit Finland and Sweden to NATO.
Resolution, J Cleared the chamber In the bipartisan 95-1 vote, it was a top priority for the Republican leader, who wanted to send a signal about the GOP’s direction toward isolationism under former President Trump.
Trump has been critical of NATO throughout his presidency. It was part of an “America First” agenda that resonated with parts of the GOP base after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but also divided Republican incumbents.
McConnell visited war-torn Ukraine with a congressional delegation in May, stopping in Finland and Sweden during that trip. During the debate over bringing those countries into NATO, he argued that doing so would make America stronger, not weaker.
Even though Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the only member of either party in the Senate to vote “no,” lost, the GOP leader certainly won the battle.
Most notably, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both changed their opinions. In 2017 and 2019, respectively, the two senators were the only senators to vote against the resolution adding Montenegro and North Macedonia to NATO.
On Finland and Sweden, two liberal-leaning lawmakers took a different stance: Lee voted for the resolution and Paul abstained.
“There’s a real and dangerous world out there, and it’s very easy to talk about US isolationism or US restraint or US isolation from the world, and then it’s another thing to vote for it. And I think, you know, we saw that Sen. Paul and Sen. Lee didn’t vote against Sweden and Finland joining NATO,” Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, told The Hill.
Hawley argued on and between the Senate floor and the op-ed The US should not focus on expanding its security commitments in Europe, as America’s “biggest foreign enemy” is China. He supported the accession of North Macedonia to NATO in 2019.
Trump has repeatedly criticized McConnell, who has rebuked the former president for actions leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, attacking the Capitol in a floor speech shortly after the president’s impeachment trial. McConnell avoids publicly criticizing Trump, but there’s no mistaking that the two have different views on various policy issues — even if there are ways to align them.
NATO and foreign policy are generally areas of division.
Trump has aired complaints about the 30-member NATO group, calling it “obsolete” and repeatedly grumbling that countries don’t pay enough for the shared cost of defense. At one point during his presidency he allegedly advocated About pulling the US out of NATO.
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, McConnell openly admitted he was worried about the isolationist wing of the party led by Trump.
“One thing I was concerned about, especially at that moment, was this sort of growing isolationist feeling in the party, to some extent, voiced by President Trump,” he said. Associated Press In an interview.
In remarks on the Senate floor that day, the Republican leader did not hold back from addressing potential opposition to the resolution.
“If any senator is looking for a defensive excuse to vote ‘no,’ I wish them the best of luck,” McConnell said. “This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support.”
A separate amendment clarifying Congress’s war power in the context of NATO’s collective defense clause Failed to garner broad GOP support.
Only 10 Republicans, including its sponsor, Paul, voted for the amendment, which emphasized that Article 5 did not supersede Congress’s constitutional right to declare war.
Not all Republicans see the vote as a sign that the GOP is moving away from the “America First” mantra of the MAGA movement.
Republican strategist Doug Hay told The Hill that while the NATO vote was “encouraging,” the existing gulf in GOP support for Ukraine could widen as Russia’s invasion continues.
“I still don’t think we know, you know, where the Republican Party is going on foreign policy,” Haye said.
“While this vote is overwhelming, there have been other opinions about funding for Ukraine or threats about further voting on funding for Ukraine, which suggests there are cracks,” he added.
Senate in May $40 billion aid package passed 86-11 vote for Ukraine, co All opposition Coming from the Republican Party. Hawley, Paul and Lee were all among those voting “no.” On the House side, 57 Republicans opposed to the supplement.
He said that while the coalition of Republicans who have opposed Ukraine funding in the past is not large enough to “vote,” the group’s existence and potential to take a stand against future issues is enough to give pause for speculation. The GOP’s foreign policy trajectory.
He’s far from the only Republican with that view.
“I don’t think it’s increasing, I don’t think it’s decreasing. I think it always has been,” James Carafano, vice president for foreign policy and national security at the Heritage Foundation, told The Hill.
He argued that Trump’s “America First” philosophy has been conflated with the anti-interventionist movement, asserting that Trump attributes US foreign policy to domestic interests.
“It just shows that it’s there because you had a senator who had a personal commitment and wanted to express it,” Carafano said of the party’s isolationist wing. “This is part of the patchwork of the Republican movement. It will always be. “
At the same time, a bipartisan vote to add Finland and Sweden to NATO pushed back against that philosophy and was a victory for McConnell.
It “reflects the general bipartisan consensus that NATO is an important part of American foreign policy,” Carafano said.