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Walter Jones Made the Yemen Vote Happen

Congressman Walter Jones speaking at the 2013 Young Americans for Liberty National Convention at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. GageSkidmore/Flickr

The United States House of Representatives on Wednesday voted on H.J.Res. 37 to reassert Congressional War Powers in the ongoing war in Yemen—a significant and historic moment in Congress on many levels. The resolution passed 248-177. One Republican’s vote was noticeably and sadly absent—the late Rep. Walter Jones, who passed away on February 10th.

The bill represents the first time in history the House of Representatives has voted to invoke the War Powers Resolution to compel the executive branch to put a stop to unauthorized military engagements in a foreign war. Sadly, Rep. Jones was not there to see the culmination of his most significant work on Capitol Hill—his tireless efforts to show the impact of war.

Following his vote for the Iraq War, a decision he came to regret deeply, he dedicated himself to building the case that Congress has not only the Constitutional responsibility to authorize and oversee war, but also the moral obligation to Americans to do so. By his own estimates, he sent more than 12,000 letters to families who had lost someone in either the Iraq or the Afghanistan Wars. Rep. Jones’ involvement on this issue was more than good politics, or good policy; it was a personal mission. Anyone who spoke with him about the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was aware of his deep grief for lives senselessly lost in the wars. This was not just a political matter for him, one could sense the moral and spiritual urgency to his pain.

Being a deeply religious man, he had a full understanding of his responsibility to work tirelessly to end these misguided military adventures. Even though he was a convert to the Roman Catholic faith, one could hear his Southern Baptist roots when he prayed.

Rep. Jones was also passionate about the Constitution and about honoring our nation’s men and women in uniform.  He fully understood Congress’ Constitutionally enumerated Article I war powers and for years he worked to bring attention to Congress’ cowardly shirking of that responsibility. Until this week, Congressional Leadership (his own Republican Party) blocked any of Walter Jones’ attempts to have a vote or even allow a debate on the floor.

Even though he served 12 full terms in Congress representing his home state of North Carolina, he was callously denied any significant committee assignments as punishment for his audacity to bring attention to the Republican leadership’s refusal to follow the Constitution. In spite of this disrespectful treatment, he soldiered on in his quest to honor our troops and force his colleagues in Congress to do the same.

In one particularly bold display of courage in opposing congressional leadership, Rep. Jones said in 2016, “[Paul Ryan] is denying members of Congress their constitutional duty, that we are sworn to uphold the Constitution, and one of those duties is to vote whether we send our young men and women to die or not.”

Jones felt and often decried the fact that nothing is more disrespectful to our troops than for Congress to willfully turn a blind eye the consequences of failed military engagements where our troops are put in harm’s way. Rep. Jones understood that wrong, and he helped many in Washington come to see his point.

His courageous example was an inspiration to all of us who were alarmed about the physical, moral, political and financial destruction wrought by these wars and the willingness of the Washington political class to allow it to continue, while assiduously avoiding taking any direct responsibility for the tragic costs.

The vote this week reflected how many hearts and minds in Congress have been influenced by Rep. Jones’ activities over the years.

Our nation has experienced a profound loss with the passing of such a great man, but those of us who knew him will carry on guided by his example. His legacy reverberated in the Halls of Congress this week with this historic vote, and will continue to reverberate in the hearts of those who knew him.

George D. O’Neill, Jr., an artist, is the founder of The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy and a board member of The American Ideas Institute, the parent of The American Conservative. He and his wife reside in Florida.

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