WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul today attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to question Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the Obama Administration’s proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State, known as ISIS. During the hearing, Sen. Paul emphasized the need for the Executive Branch to abide by the U.S. Constitution and seek approval from the Legislative Branch on matters of war, and reiterated that Congress must carefully consider the long-term ramifications of passing an overly broad AUMF.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the panel for coming today.
Madison wrote that, “History demonstrates what the Constitution supposes, that the executive branch is most prone to war, and therefore, the Constitution, with studied care, vested that power in the legislature.”
Madison also went on to further write that, “The separation of powers would be protected by pitting the ambitions of one branch against the ambitions of another.”
There will be points of dispute. These points of dispute are important, and no one side will monolithically be able to declare victory.”
But I can tell you, I’m not particularly happy with being lectured to by the administration about the Constitution. This is an administration who I believe has trampled the Constitution at many turns.
This is an administration that seeks to legislate when that is not in their purview, whether it be immigration, whether it be health care or whether it now be a war that’s been going for eight months without congressional authorization.
This administration is in direct defiance of what Senator Obama ran on and he was elected upon. He said, “No country should go to war without the authority of Congress unless under imminent attack.”
This is a great debate. I signed the letter to Iran. But you know what? The message I was sending was to you.
The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law. We — we want you to understand the separation of powers.
If this agreement in any way modifies legislative sanctions, it will have to be passed by Congress. That’s why that I’ve supported Senator Corker’s legislation that says exactly this.
However, I’ve told Senator Corker privately, I think that’s the law anyway, that this will have to be passed. You cannot undo legislation.
So why do I sign this letter? I sign this letter because I sign it to an administration that doesn’t listen, to an administration that, every turn, tries to go around Congress because you think you can’t get your way.
The president says, “Oh, the Congress won’t do what I want, so I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got my phone. I’m going to do what I want.”
The letter was to you. The letter was to Iran, but it should’ve been CC’d to the White House, because the White House needs to understand that any agreement that removes or changes legislation will have to be passed by us.
Now, people can have different interpretations of things, but I’ll go through a couple of things that bother me about the AUMF.
The AUMF in 2001 says that nations or organizations that planned, authorized, committed or aided in the attacks on 9/11 are the — the target. That’s what the authorization is about.
I don’t read both Boko Haram into that. I mean, if we’re going to read Boko Haram into that, that is such a stretch that it’s meaningless.
Senator Murphy talked about vagueness. It’s pretty specific in 2001 what we’re supposed to do. I was all in favor of that. We had to do what we had to do with Afghanistan, with those who attacked us.
If we have to go to other places, we should have other authorizations. I’m not saying I won’t vote for the authorizations; we just need to have them.
So we have a new authorization that says, “We don’t authorize enduring and offensive operation.” The problem is, it is so vague that — I trust — I trust the military when the military says, “This isn’t what we’re contemplating.” I trust you.
But the thing is, there’ll be another president who I may or may not trust, may have a certain degree of — of lack of trust in this president, saying that it’s not being contemplated.
So we say it’s 697,000, but the next president could say it is. You know, is it 100,000?
You know, that would be my question, I guess, to Secretary Carter. We’re saying it’s not 697,00. Is it 100,000 troops?
SECRETARY ASHTON CARTER: Thank you…
PAUL: Or could it be?
CARTER: Thank you, Senator.
Well, it doesn’t have a number in it, and that reflects the basic approach that this draft AUMF, or proposed AUMF, takes, which is to not attempt to numerate or number but to set a scope and a limit a very meaningful limit…
PAUL: But could it mean 100,000, I guess?
CARTER: … a meaningful limit referring to — and the president specifically referred to the campaigns…
… Iraq and Afghanistan. And it just gets back to the whole logic of the — the campaign, which is to enable those in the region who can make a victory stick.
PAUL: I understand not wanting to put a number on it. And when the authorization was passed in December, it didn’t put a number on it; it defined sort of the mission more precisely.
In doing so, it basically defined what we’re doing over there now. I see nothing that we’re doing over there now that wouldn’t have flown under the definition from December.
The problem is, is that without a geographic limit, we now have Boko Haram. People are saying — the thing is, it’s sort of like — it’s disdainful to say, “Well, you know, we want y’all to pass something, but it doesn’t really matter, because we’ll just use 2001,” which is just absurd, and it just means that Congress is inconsequential and so are the people in the country that basically will do what we want if Boko Haram can be included under 2001.
If Boko Haram’s a threat to the country, bring it to me, and we’ll vote. And I’ll listen honestly on whether we need to attack Boko Haram in Nigeria.
But the thing is, is that I understand how things change over time and how people transmute words to mean things that they really weren’t intended to mean.
If 2001 can be applied to Boko Haram, I’m very concerned about voting for this as it is worded, because if we’re going to go to war in Libya, I want to vote for war in Libya. If we’re going to go to war in Nigeria, I want to vote for war in Nigeria.
And I’m not talking about an isolated, small episode, where we have to go knock out a cell of people that are organizing to attack us. You may be able to interpret that under the imminent attack sort of clause of the — of the Constitution.
But I am concerned. That’s why we get to numbers. Under this — under this resolution, I believe you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Iraq. I understand you say it’s not contemplated. I also believe that you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Libya and in Nigeria.
And now there are 30 nations that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. So words are important, and people worry about the danger of being too confining. We’re not even anywhere close to that, because even when we thought we were confining in 2001, people have interpreted that to mean everything.
And so, really, I guess, Secretary Carter, do you understand that if it were to pass as it is now, there are those of us who would worry that this would be authorizing unlimited troops in 30 different nations if the administration saw fit to send them?
CARTER: Senator, I think that any AUMF, and certainly this proposed AUMF, tries to strike a balance between being — anticipating a wide enough range of contingencies that we can react in a way that we need to protect ourselves and that we anticipate the nature of this enemy while being restrictive enough to suggest to, not just the law, but to you and our force, the force for which I am responsible and General Dempsey is responsible, what we’re contemplating here.
We’re trying to strike that balance. It’s always hard to strike a balance in language. I’ve said before I’m not a lawyer. But in common-sense terms, that’s the balance that we’re trying to strike.
And I respect that different people might use different language to that effect. And I’ve learned enough in studying for this hearing about authorities for the use of military force to know that there are several avenues to do that.
But I think that what is being done here is in recognition of a new chapter opening, namely the ISIL threat which opened last summer. The recognition that there’s a new chapter in our effort to protect ourselves and in respect — out of respect for that, a request for a specific authorization. And I think I understand that.
I don’t think that — I think the lawyers have said there isn’t a legal necessity for it. It doesn’t come from legal necessity. It comes from a recognition of a practical fact, which is something happened last summer which created a new danger to which we had — in the defeat of which we need to participate.
We’re not going do it by ourselves. We’re going enable others to do it. And that’s the principal insurance against it turning into an Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not what’s needed here. That’s not what will succeed here.
So, just speaking as the secretary of defense and, again, not a lawyer, it seems to me that’s the logic that brought us here, and I understand it.
PAUL: Thank you. And I just want to say I don’t question your sincerity, and when you say it isn’t contemplated, I do — I truly do believe that it isn’t contemplated.
But I have to deal with words that 15 years from now I have to explain to my kids and their friends and their kids’ kids, that something I voted for in 2015 still has us at war in 2030 in 30 different countries. OK?
It is an ongoing threat, but we need to keep the separation of powers, We need to vote on these things. And the reason it has to be precise is I can’t vote for something that’s going to enable war in Libya, in Nigeria, in Yemen, and all these places with 100,000 troops. There has to be some kind of limitation.
And, it’s not your sincerity I question, it’s the politicians and the next politician and the next politician after you.
But thank you very much.