Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was one of 10 Senators to vote for a controversial bill Saturday morning to suspend U.S. aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya.
The plan, proposed by libertarian firebrand Rand Paul, of Kentucky, was never expected to pass and was soundly defeated, 81-10. But it was put forward anyway as a symbolic statement by members of the Senate who want to limit America's profile abroad, and Toomey's vote stakes out a position within their ranks.
"The recent developments in Egypt, Libya and Pakistan are clearly a cause for concern. Although this bill was not perfect, it’s important that we send a message to countries receiving U.S. foreign aid that American assistance comes with responsibilities," Toomey said in a news release touting his vote.
Paul's bill called for cutting off aid that he said helps dictators until they show they are working more closely with the U.S. Opponents said the plan would diminish American influence and hurt those fighting for democracy abroad, allowing extremists free reign.
The bill, voted on in the early hours of Saturday morning as the Senate wrapped up its work until Election Day, drew a rebuke from not only Democrats but also veteran Republicans.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, was one of the most vocal opponents. According to The New York Times, he warned that a provision cutting off aid to countries where an American embassy is attacked would invite assaults on embassies in friendly nations.
"If you want to destroy the hope of everybody in the Mideast who has been brave enough to stand up to these thugs and lose their family members, if you want to break their spirit, pass this amendment,"” Graham said, according to Politico. "If this amendment passes, good luck finding anybody anywhere in the world who will partner with us, who would be brave enough to stand up to these thugs and say, 'You will not have my children's future.'"
In my early weeks in Washington, I have so far heard two takes on Toomey, the first-term Senator who was elected in the Republican tea party wave of 2010. One version is that he has been less sharply partisan than expected, even as he rises as a prominent Republican voice on fiscal issues. The other is that he is like a Senate version of Paul Ryan - holding deeply conservative fiscal views but with more polish and less froth than some of the tea party rookies, making his stances seem more moderate than they are.
The foreign aid vote is one of many he has taken and will take, but this particular stand fits more with the second version.