During a Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had a tense exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry over the finer points of the Constitution.
“Make me proud today, Secretary Kerry,” the Kentucky senator began after voicing his concerns over reports President Barack Obama may act on Syria even if Congress disapproves. “Stand up for us and say you’re going to obey the Constitution and if we vote you down — which is unlikely, by the way — you would go with what the people say through their Congress and you wouldn’t go forward with a war that your Congress votes against.”
Sen. Paul then asked Secretary Kerry to be more specific on what the White House plans to do if Congress votes against intervening in Syria.
“I don’t know what the decision is,” Kerry answered, “but I’ll tell you this … [President Obama] still has the Constitutional authority and he would be in keeping with the Constitution.”
Paul disagreed, saying he doesn’t believe the president has the authority to order military action in a foreign country — especially after Congress votes against it:
“[James] Madison was very explicit when he wrote the Federalist Papers,” Paul said. “He wrote that … the Constitution supposes what history demonstrates. That the executive is the branch most likely to go to war and therefore the Constitution vested that power on the Congress.”
“It’s explicit and runs throughout all of Madison’s writings,” he continued. “This power is a congressional power and is not an executive power.”
During Sen. Paul’s remarks, Secretary Kerry largely avoided eye contact and instead scribbled on a nearby notepad.
“If we do not say that the Constitution applies, if we do not say explicitly that we will abide by this vote,” the senator lectured, “you’re making a joke of us. You’re making us into theater. And so we play Constitutional theater for the president.”
Secretary Kerry became visibly agitated.
“If this real, you will abide by the verdict of Congress,” Paul said.
“Senator,” Kerry said, “I assure you there’s nothing meaningless and there’s everything real.”
“Only if you adhere to what we vote on,” Paul responded. “Only if our vote makes a difference.”
“And I will leave to the man who was elected to be the President of the United States the responsibility for telling you what his decision is if and when that moment came,” Kerry said. “But the president intends to win this vote and he’s not going to make prior announcements.”
The Kentucky senator and the Secretary of State continued, debating the merits of the White House’s proposed plan to intervene in Syria.
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Featured image screen grab. This post has been updated.