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Foreign Policy Gets Short Shrift in the Senate

Domestic Focus on Jobs Leaves Little Room for International Affairs

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John McCain is ramping up pressure on leaders to bring a Department of Defense authorization bill to the floor.

The Arab Spring is reshaping the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian tensions are coming to a head and President Barack Obama just dispatched 100 troops to Uganda — but the Senate's all-consuming focus on domestic economic affairs has left scarce room for foreign policy debates.

Inside Washington's most deliberative body, Members have spent little to no floor time openly expressing opinions or airing grievances about the trajectory of America's international presence, even as the world landscape changes significantly.

This spring the Senate failed to move legislation authorizing the administration's military action in Libya; it was sidelined both by spending bills and by an inability to agree on what the measure should look like.

Since then, Senators have been frustrated with the administration's communication — or lack thereof — with Congress about military decisions, as well as the chamber's inability to respond powerfully enough to draw the White House's attention.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who traveled to Libya on an official visit in late September, said Tuesday that Members have been "totally" frustrated with the level of information-sharing between the White House and Congress since the administration's March decision to participate in NATO-led military operations in the embattled African nation.

Friday's announcement that the White House was sending a small contingent of troops to Uganda to combat the militant Lord's Resistance Army reopened old wounds.

"I think what they did makes perfect sense; they should just call us," Graham said of U.S. engagement in Libya and Uganda. "Make us partners. There are plenty of people over here who want to work with the administration. You just don't want to have a Friday night press release at midnight talking about having troops going into Uganda and get asked by your constituents Monday morning, 'What's that all about?' and you don't have a clue.

"The administration should reach out more," the South Carolina Republican added. "[But] Congress should speak up more. ... I think it would be good for us to talk about it."

On Tuesday, in a rare shift away from talks on the budget or the economy, Republican Senators led by Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.) took to the floor to ramp up pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring up a long-stalled Department of Defense authorization bill.

The legislation has been delayed over controversial terrorist detainee provisions, but Reid emphasized on the floor that he is committed to taking up the reauthorization bill. Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that guarantee has also been made to him personally, even as he and McCain work to resolve the outstanding issues.

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