Via Think Progress, this one’s a few days old but worth noting belatedly. Skip to 4:25 for the key bit. Three weeks ago, this would have been a big deal legislatively. Rumors were swirling at the time that the Senate had 67 votes — a veto-proof majority — to slam Iran with a new round of sanctions that would, in theory, pressure them to faithfully carry out their obligations under the Geneva nuclear deal. The Iranians countered that new sanctions would be a dealbreaker; Obama threatened to veto them if they passed, but 67 votes would mean taking the pen out of his hand. The mystery, then: How would Rand Paul, potentially the 67th vote, come down on the question when his dovish libertarian fans and more hawkish conservative ones were at odds? The answer, as it turned out, was that it doesn’t matter. After the news broke about a veto-proof majority congealing in the Senate, the White House and various interest groups went into overdrive in pressuring pro-sanctions Democrats to back down. It worked. Chris Coons, one of the original sponsors of a new round of sanctions, had a change of heart, as did Richard Blumenthal. The pen is back in Obama’s hand so Paul’s vote is academic.
Academic, but still interesting and relevant to the future of Republican foreign policy. Support for new sanctions is nearly unanimous among Senate GOPers, with Paul and Jeff Flake, as far as I know, constituting a caucus of two in showing reluctance. Marco Rubio backs sanctions and thinks the Senate still has a shot at a veto-proof majority on them. Ted Cruz called Obama’s SOTU threat to veto a sanctions bill “one of the most dangerous things in the entire speech” and compared his handling of Iran to Clinton’s handling of eventual nuclear power North Korea in the 90s. This is, in other words, a glaring point of contention between Paul and his presidential rivals on a hot-button foreign policy issue. It’s bound to figure in the debates next year, maybe prominently. If negotiations break down, it’s a cinch that the field’s more hawkish candidates will use his wait-and-see approach to bludgeon him for his dovish naivete. Paul will have defenses to that — he voted for Iran sanctions in the past, and he says here that he’d prefer to keep existing sanctions in effect until there’s proof that Iran’s complying with the Geneva terms (although Iran never would have agreed to that) — but no one knows if they’ll work. The whole thrust of his opponents’ criticism on foreign policy will be that he’s too much like his father to be trusted to defend the country robustly. They’re looking around for data points to support that thesis; if negotiations collapse, this’ll be seized eagerly. And of course Paul knows it, which is why it’s safe to say he’s giving his honest opinion here. He’s already got the libertarian vote. All this can do is get hawkish voters to say “hmmmm.”