McConnell's noncommittal remarks reflect his difficult political position as he seeks to ward off a GOP primary challenge from Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin. With Republicans split over approving Obama's push for military action, the question of whether to punish the regime for allegedly using chemical weapons is testing McConnell's typically hawkish inclinations and desire not to be the lone congressional leader against the U.S. mission.
On the other hand, the potency of the GOP's hawkish wing is waning as isolationist sentiments flourish within the conservative movement. The deep-pocketed Heritage Action is against military action. Many Republicans are leaning that way. The public is weary of more war. And being on the same side as Obama is not a comfortable place for Republicans to be politically: just ask 2016 hopefuls, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY), both of whom voted against the use of force in committee Wednesday.
Bevin is siding with the isolationist wing of the Republican Party, led by Kentucky's junior senator, and opposing military action in Syria. He is also needling McConnell for his apparent silence and accusing him of failing to lead.
"We have no business being militarily involved in Syria. I couldn't be more clear on that," Bevin said in a local TV interview last Friday. "We have no business being there. It'll lead to the same kind of mess that we've found ourselves on any number of other fronts in the Middle East right now. And it's a waste of our nation's greatest resources."
His stance hasn't changed now that Obama wants congressional approval. "We shouldn't be getting involved in conflicts abroad where there is no compelling American interest," Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand told TPM on Wednesday. "Given that both sides seem largely anti-American in their positioning, Matt has stated that we should not get involved in Syria."
McConnell didn't comment Wednesday after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 for a resolution to move forward with military strikes. It will appear before the full Senate next. The House held a hearing into the issue Wednesday.
Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes also kept her options open on Syria.
"I have not received the classified briefings, but I have been clear all along on the fact that the regime's actions are reprehensible and must be addressed," Grimes said in a statement to TPM on Wednesday. "We need to listen to our military leaders and make sure there is an exit plan with any action involving our armed forces to avoid sending them into an open-ended conflict. I am continuing to monitor the situation closely, and strongly support Kentuckians having a say through our elected officials in Congress."