The President says, ‘Oh I got a pen and a phone, I’m gonna do what I want’
“I’m not particularly happy with being lectured by the administration about the Constitution; this is an administration… that has trampled the Constitution at many turns,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“This is an administration that seeks to legislate [what] is not in their purview: whether it be immigration…healthcare…or a war that has now been going on eight months without Congressional authorization,” said Paul pointedly.
“This administration is in direct defiance of what Sen. Obama ran on, what he was elected upon,” said Paul. Obama “said ‘no country should go to war without the authority of the Congress unless under imminent attack.’”
Paul: “I signed the letter to Iran, but you know what? The message I was sending was to you. The message was to President Obama. We want you to obey the law. We want you to understand the separation of powers.”
47 Senate Republicans signed an open letter to Iran this week that said: "we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khomenei."
Paul continued: “So why do I sign this letter [to Iran]? I sign this letter 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 a phone, I’m gonna do what I want.’”
“The letter was to Iran, but it should have been CC’ed to the White House, because he needs to understand that any agreement that removes or changes legislation will have to be passed by us,” said Paul.
Paul said this at a hearing for President Obama’s request for an AUMF (authorization for use of military forces) against ISIS. Paul said he is disturbed by the vagueness of the language in the AUMF, which doesn’t specify numbers of forces or the location where they will be used.
He criticized the authorization’s vague language, and said while he trusts the military that they don’t mean the authorization to be used beyond the current conflict with ISIS, the authorization itself may be used by another president “who I don’t trust, and I may have a certain degree of lack of trust in this president [when he says] that it’s not being contemplated.”
In response to a question earlier in the hearing, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the AUMF would not be used to send 697,000 troops overseas. Paul asked whether it could be used to send 100,000.
“Well it doesn’t have a number in it,” said Carter. With a great deal of hemming and hawing, he explained that the AUMF does “not attempt to enumerate or number but attempt to uh, set a scope, or a limit, a very meaningful limit, referring to uh, the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan… The logic of the campaign is to enable those in the region who can make a victory stick.”
“I understand not wanting to put a number on it,” responded Paul. He said that when the authorization was passed in December it didn’t set a number or limit, but did define a mission.
“The problem is that, without a geographic limit, we now have Boko Haram… it’s disdainful to say, you know ‘we want you to pass something, but it doesn’t really matter because if you don’t, we’ll just use 2001.’ Which is just absurd; it just means that Congress is inconsequential and so are the people and the country. Basically we’ll do what we want if Boko Haram can be included under 2001.”
Paul: “Under this resolution, I believe you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Iraq. I understand you say it’s not contemplated. But under this resolution, I also believe 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.”
Paul asked, somewhat rhetorically, “Do you understand, Sec. Carter, that if it were to pass as it is now… that this would be authorizing unlimited troops in 30 different nations if the administration saw fit to send them?”
In a rambling answer, Carter asserted that “the lawyers have said there isn’t a legal” need for the AUMF that Obama is seeking, but that the administration is seeking the authorization to coalesce political will for the actions they will be taking against ISIL, which will be limited so that this does not turn into another Iraq and Afghanistan war.
Paul told Carter that he doesn’t question his sincerity when the military says it does not intend to expand operations beyond the current limited use.
“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,” said Paul.
“The reason [the language of the AUMF] has to be precise is [because] I can’t vote for something that’s going to enable war in Libya, in Nigeria, and in Yemen with 100,000 troops,” said Paul. “There has to be some kind of limitation.”