Speeches

I am here on the floor to support my friend Senator Rand Paul, and to encourage my Senate colleagues to support his proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

In the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers lodged the following grievance against King George III: [QUOTE] “He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.”

A decade later, the Founders included a safeguard in the Constitution so that “civil power”—in other words, the people and their representatives—would play an important role in matters of war and peace.

The safeguard is all of seven words: [QUOTE] “The Congress shall have Power . . . to declare War.”

Today, this safeguard—this crucial check on government—has been eroded in subtle and alarming ways.

Congressional authorizations of military force are being contorted to justify wars with an ever-growing list of adversaries—without any input from Congress or the American people about whether we should be fighting those wars in the first place.

Senator Paul has introduced an amendment to sunset two such authorizations: The 2001 Authorization of Military Force against the perpetrators of 9/11, and the 2002 Authorization of Military Force against the Hussein regime in Iraq.

I support my colleague’s amendment because the world has changed and our adversaries have changed since those authorizations were passed.

Osama bin Laden is dead. Saddam Hussein is dead. His statue in Firdos Square came down almost a decade and a half ago.

Yet thousands of American troops are still serving in Middle East wars based on the same authorizations Congress granted nearly two decades ago.

Instead of changing these authorizations to reflect a changing world, politicians have used the old authorizations to start new wars. Wars in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan, against adversaries that had nothing to do with 9/11.

The 2001 AUMF has been used to justify a drone war across the Middle East . . . without a debate or vote in Congress.

It has been used to justify air wars in Libya and Yemen . . . without a debate or vote in Congress.

And it has been used to justify military action against the Islamic State terrorist group . . . without a debate or vote in Congress.

Some of these military actions may be justified. But the best way to determine whether they are is to submit them to scrutiny—to debate and a vote in Congress.

As many of you know, we are in the midst of a populist revolt against Washington, D.C.

Senator Paul and I were elected in the first wave of this revolt—the Tea Party election of 2010.

He and I have listened to countless Americans voice their grievances against Washington.

The gist of their complaint is this: They do not feel like their interests are being taken into account in Washington, D.C.

Bit by bit, they have watched their representatives cede decision-making power to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in the executive branch. 

They have watched as a “Washington consensus” has emerged on issues that was shared nowhere else but in Washington.

If you understand these concerns—that Washington, D.C. is deeply unrepresentative of much of the country—then you understand a lot about our populist moment.

And it applies to foreign policy as well as domestic policy. To how our government conducts itself abroad as well as at home.

A decade and a half after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the American people want a place at the table in decisions about war and peace, life and death. They want to be represented in decisions that concern them—and their sons and daughters—so intimately.

If we do not give the American people these things—do not listen to their concerns, advocate for them in the legislative branch, and vote on them openly—, then we are failing them as representatives and ignoring the Constitution.

That is why I am supporting Senator Paul’s amendment. I hope my colleagues join me so this issue can get the vote it deserves.