Why Rand Paul is Right to Oppose the Defense Bill
“Rand Paul is at it again,” blared Politico on Thursday. “And his moves could force another brief government shutdown.”
While Politico and other media outlets seemed to frame the Republican senator’s opposition to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act as his typical libertarian rabble-rousing, most were missing his entire point as it relates to America’s actual national defense: Washington warmongers will advance the theory of an all-powerful executive branch when that theory helps promote war, and they will become strict constitutionalists who seek executive restraint whenever it does not.
In explaining his opposition to the 2020 NDAA in its current form, Sen. Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday, “According to the unitary executive theory, since the Constitution assigns the president all of the ‘executive power,’ he can set aside laws that attempt to limit his power over national security. This is enormous: critics say that it effectively puts the president above the law.”
“Now these same people who advocated for virtually unlimited commander in chief powers have put forth limits to restrain a president from removing troops from a country,” Paul added.
Paul was citing language in the current NDAA that would make it impossible for President Trump to carry out his expressed desire to withdraw troops in Afghanistan. An amendment supported by Rep. Liz Cheney would block the president from withdrawing troops via executive order and would defer that decision to Congress.
So who are these people, the neocons and assorted hawks Paul was pointing his finger at? The son of Ron Paul did not hesitate to name names. Paul thundered:
Representative Liz Cheney has argued that “the nature of military and foreign policy demand the ‘unity of the singular Executive,’” and that the Founders “certainly did not intend, nor does history substantiate, the idea that Congress should legislate specific limits on the President’s powers” in wartime.
Senator Lindsey Graham said “the one thing he has been consistent on’ is that “there is one Commander-in-Chief, not 535, and I believe this Commander-in-Chief and all future commanders-in-chief are unique in our Constitution and have an indispensable role to play when it comes to protecting the homeland. If we have 535 commanders in chief, then we are going to be less safe.”
Paul hammered on, “The late Senator John McCain said, ‘it would be a very serious situation where we are now 535 commanders in chief… the President of the United States is the only commander.”
“And of course, former Vice President Dick Cheney was adamant that the War Powers Resolution, which requires the President to report to Congress on matters of war, was unconstitutional as ‘an infringement on the president’s authority as the commander in chief,’” Paul noted.
After citing numerous high-profile Republican voices who insisted American presidents have the power to unilaterally go to war without consulting Congress, Paul highlighted their rank hypocrisy.
“Until recently, this chorus of voices sang of nothing but the almighty, endless powers that Presidents had as Commander in Chief,” Paul said. “That is until a President arrived on the scene who wanted to reduce overseas troop levels and end America’s longest war in Afghanistan.”
Paul continued, “Then the promoters of a strong commander in chief suddenly jumped ship and began advocating that 535 members of Congress should indeed become generals and limit the President’s ability to remove troops from Afghanistan.”
In other words, war propagandists have little use for unitary executive theory when the current executive wants to bring the troops home.
Sen. Paul would say later, “The neoconservative philosophy isn’t so much about a unitary executive, isn’t so much about an all-powerful commander-in-chief. The philosophy of these people is about war and substantiating war and making sure that it becomes and is perpetual war.”
The Kentucky senator nailed it, for anyone paying attention—which excluded most in the Washington bubble and mainstream media.
“Shouldn’t we call out hypocrisy?” Paul begged Thursday. “Shouldn’t someone stand up and expose this rank demagoguery? Shouldn’t someone cry foul that those advocating for unlimited commander in chief power want it only to apply when that President advocates for war?”
Someone should. Rand Paul is. Good.
Even if he’s the only one.
Jack Hunter is the former political editor of Rare.us and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Senator Rand Paul.