Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the new Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has no plans to oppose the nominations either of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary or current Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next secretary of state, he told The Cable in an interview.
"I'm going to remain open-minded and hear more about what [Hagel's] plans are and his direction are as he comes forward. I'm not going to make a prior commitment one way or the other," Paul said.
The firm opposition to Hagel has now risen to include five GOP senators. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) announced he would vote "no" on the nomination, adding him to the list that includes Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Other top senators who have expressed reservations but not committed to a "no" vote include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and new ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe (R-OK).
Paul said he intends to use Hagel's nomination to press the former Nebraska senator on whether he would support the reform of how the United States doles out arms and military aid to foreign countries, especially those that don't follow policies that are in the American national security interest.
"It's an opportunity to talk about the issue and get his opinion about our aid to foreign countries. I would like to ask and will ask [him] whether or not they are aware of the world we live in. Everybody seems to be aware of it, but nobody is changing policy," Paul said.
Paul isn't on the Armed Services Committee, which will vet Hagel, but he is on the SFRC, which will vet Kerry. Paul intends to use Kerry's hearing to press for answers on Benghazi, but he said Kerry's nomination shouldn't be considered until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the committee first.
"One of my questions will be: If the buck stops with her, is she taking ultimately responsible for the failure?" he said. "I'd like to know whether she read the cables from Ambassador Stevens... The real point is who was in charge of the security and in the months leading up to the attack, why wasn't there adequate security."
Paul has been active in pushing his idea for cutting foreign aid to the countries of Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan until or unless those countries take steps to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy objectives. Sometimes, Paul has used tactics like holding nominees or objecting the easy passage of bills to get a hearing on his foreign aid amendment.
Those tactics are likely to continue, Paul said, but that's his prerogative as a senator and he doesn't feel guilty about using that power from time to time.
"While people complain about the Senate, in the end we've never held anybody who wasn't released as a nominee eventually," he said.
Paul plans to use his new perch to argue for a scaled-back American role in the world and a reform of American foreign assistance funding.
"There needs to be a voice for people in the country who want to see a less aggressive foreign policy, a more defensive foreign policy, and a less interventionalist foreign policy," he said. "The president says over and over again that we need to do nation building at home, not overseas, but he continues to do both. I think we need to put teeth to the fact that we are running out of money."
Paul will also continue work to ensure that any resolutions or sanctions measures for Iran include language making clear that Congress has not authorized the use of military force there.
"I'm not about to let any war happen without a significant and serious debate in Congress. I wish the president was more like he was a senator when he said no president should go to war without the consent of Congress. Now that's he's president, he's totally forgotten that," he said.
There are some rumors that Paul might be given a ranking Republican position on one of the SFRC subcommittees, which would give him more staff and the ability to work on more issues. He said hasn't been offered such a post but would take it if offered.
There could also be fireworks between him and McCain, who also just joined the SFRC and who opposes Paul on almost every foreign-policy issue.
"You'll just have to wait and see on that," Paul said with a laugh.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.