9:05pm

Sat April 2, 2011
Politics

From The Tea Party, Mixed Views On Libya

On economic and domestic policy, Republicans in Congress have overwhelmingly spoken with one voice: opposed to President Obama.

But that's not so on Libya, which has been the subject of several congressional hearings this week.

"We did not seek this military operation in Libya, but we were right to intervene," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Thursday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

If anything, the Arizona Republican says, Obama is being too timid in Libya.

The operation is the first new military intervention by the U.S. since the emergence of the Tea Party as a political force. While McCain and the GOP's old guard traditionally favor a muscular foreign policy, that's not necessarily true of today's Tea Party activists.

"Some say, well, this is no big deal, the president should be able to fight war whenever he wants to fight war," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a leader of the national movement, said on the Senate floor. "I beg to differ, and our founding fathers beg to differ."

In the House, Obama has support from California Republican Dana Rohrabacher.

"I've from Day 1 given this administration fairly high marks on the way it's handled this crisis," Rohrabacher said. "I'm not like the Republicans who are just seeking a way to be critical of President Obama."

The president is criticized, meanwhile, by Minnesota's Rep. Michelle Bachmann, head of the House Tea Party Caucus. On NBC's Today Show on Wednesday she said "the new Obama doctrine" of humanitarian intervention would allow the U.S. to enter one country after another.

"I don't think that's in the American interest for us to enter into one country after another," she said.

Bachmann and Paul have been champions of the Tea Party, but their views do not speak for the movement, which has other hot buttons at the moment. For many in the Tea Party, Libya is a question of balancing cost with national security.

Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says that's no surprise.

"People in the Tea Party are probably going to be a lot more deferential to the Pentagon than they are to other agencies of government," he says. "Some of them are veterans. Many of them have great respect for the military, so they tend to see it in a different light from other programs."

This week several hundred Tea Party activists gathered near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., for a rally focused on spending. Libya was ignored.

In the crowd, there was no love for Obama, but when you asked about the intervention in Libya the responses were diverse.

Alan Davis of Chillocothe, Ohio, said he was suspicious of the policy, but also ambivalent.

"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," he said. "The world is much too confusing. This is bad. It gets complicated. ... Do we get involved in foreign things or not? We're already so doggone involved."

David Show of Uniontown, Pa., said he doesn't like the U.S. taking a back seat to NATO.

"It's great to have the other countries involved with it, but when it boils down to it, we are the country that's done the great things in the world," he said. "We are the leaders, and that's a role we still have to have."

Ann Lewis, of Alexandria, Va., said whether or not it was a good idea to intervene in Libya isn't even relevant.

"The point is we don't have the money," she said.

If the Tea Party has no one shared position on Libya now that could change — especially if the mission drags on and the costs continue to escalate. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, host:

And Libya was a hot topic in Congress last week. Several committees held hearings into the use of U.S. missiles and air power against Gadhafi's military. On this issue, President Obama has both supporters and detractors among both Democrats and Republicans. The issue also provoked different responses within the Tea Party.

As NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports, the Libyan crisis is the first new military intervention by the U.S. since the Tea Party's emergence as a political force.

DON GONYEA: On economic and domestic policy, Republicans in Congress have overwhelmingly spoken with one voice, opposed to President Obama. But that's no so on Libya. Here's Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We did not seek this military operation in Libya but we were right to intervene.

GONYEA: If anything, according to McCain, the president is being too timid in Libya. But that's not every Republican's view. Take Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky:

Senator RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): Some say, well, this is no big deal. The president should be able to fight war whenever he wants to fight war. I beg to differ and our founding fathers begged to differ.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, over in the U.S. House, support comes from California Republican Dana Rohrabacher.

Representative DANA ROHRABACHER (Republican, California): I have, from day one, given this administration fairly high marks on the way it's handled this crisis. I'm not like the Republicans who are just seeking a way to be critical of President Obama.

GONYEA: And criticism from Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She was on "The Today Show" on NBC.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): So, based upon that criteria, humanitarian intervention, which apparently is the new Obama doctrine, that would be the basis for the United States to enter into one country after another. I don't think that's in the American interest for us to enter into one country after another.

GONYEA: Bachmann and Paul had been champions of the Tea Party but their views do not speak for the movement, which has other hot-button issues at the moment. For many in the Tea Party, Libya is a question of balancing costs with national security.

Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says that's no surprise.

Dr. JACK PITNEY (American Politics, Claremont McKenna College): People in the Tea Party are probably going to be a lot more deferential to the Pentagon than they are to other agencies of government. Some of them are veterans; many of them have great respect for the military. So, they tend to see it in a different light from other programs.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: This past week, several hundred Tea Party activists gathered near the capital here in Washington for a rally focused on spending. The topic of Libya was completely ignored. In the crowd there was no love for President Obama, but when you asked about the intervention in Libya, the responses were diverse.

Alan Davis is from Chillicothe, Ohio. He's suspicious of the policy but also ambivalent.

Mr. ALAN DAVIS: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. The world is much too confusing. This is bad. But it gets complicated. It'd be easy on some of that to say, OK, we're going to start now. Alan, do we get involved in foreign things or not? We're already so doggone involved.

GONYEA: David Show is from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He says he doesn't like the U.S. taking a backseat to NATO.

Mr. DAVID SHOW: You know, it's great to have the other countries involved with it but when it boils down to it, we are the country that's done the great things in the world. We are the leaders, you know, and that's a role we still have to have.

GONYEA: Then there was this from Ann Lewis of Alexandria, Virginia.

Ms. ANN LEWIS: Whether it's a good idea or a bad idea, isn't even relevant. The point is we don't have the money.

GONYEA: And if the Tea Party has no one shared position on Libya now, that could change, especially if the mission drags on and the costs continue to escalate.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.