Sen. Tim Kaine: President Can't 'Wage War Against Sovereign Nation' Without Congress

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Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., are leading a bipartisan effort to replace the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) with an updated AUMF against al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Here & Now's Eric Westervelt (@Ericnpr) speaks with Sen. Kaine (@timkaine).

"I am very, very focused on this issue that we shouldn't allow a president to commit our troops to kill or be killed unless there's been a congressional debate and vote, and a judgment through that vote that the mission is in the national interest," Kaine says.

Interview Highlights

On not supporting the U.S. missile strikes

"Well, I would support them, in all likelihood, if the president would come to Congress for permission. I don't think a president can wage war against a sovereign nation. I don't think a president can do that without Congress. The president had ample warning, these chemical weapons attacks had been occurring for months. He could have come to Congress and sought congressional approval, as required by Article 1 of the Constitution. So, I believe, just as I believed when President Obama was president with respect to Libya or missile strikes in Syria after chemical weapons attacks in 2014, that we can't give the president a blank check, president's not a king, president's got to come to Congress, make a case and lay out a strategy. That's the other important thing. Military action isn't an end; it's a means to an end, but if they don't come and discuss with us what the strategy is, it's hard to assess whether the tactics that they're using are going to be successful."

On his proposed legislation and how it would update AUMFs

"The 9/11 authorization, partly because it was passed in a time of just extreme emergency, was not carefully thought out. I don't think anybody felt like it was going to be used 17 years down the road. It had no time limitation, no geographic limitation and no real description of who it was we were fighting against. So what Sen. Corker and I do, is we try to put some definition to the war against non-state terrorist groups. We also make plain that it is not an authorization that can be used to justify military action against a sovereign nation like Syria or Iran or North Korea. This is about non-state groups — that's what the 2001 authorization was about. And if the president wants to wage war against a sovereign nation he would have to come to us separately on that.

"I'm very, very worried that this president if he's allowed to just launch military action against Syria on his own, he'll think he can do the same thing against Iran and North Korea or other nations, and so that's why we're specifying that this update of the 2001 authorization is, as was originally contemplated, just to authorize military action against non-state terrorist groups."

"I don't think a president can wage war against a sovereign nation. I don't think a president can do that without Congress."

Sen. Tim Kaine

On why Congress has not updated these authorizations before

"Congress has realized since the start that a war vote is tough, that a war vote will have unforeseen and negative consequences, and so there's been sort of a tendency to allow the executive to overreach and then say, 'Well, if it works out, we were with you all the time, Mr. President, and if it doesn't, how dare you do this?' I think there's a real lack of backbone, that's part of it. And then the second issue, which is a little fairer to Congress, I would say, is drafting a war authorization against non-state terrorist groups can be a little bit difficult. A sovereign nation, you can define it easily. Sovereign nations, generally, follow Geneva Conventions, the geographic description tends to be relatively straightforward. But non-state terrorist groups splinter, change their names, don't respect geographic boundaries. What we do is we basically say this is an authorization against the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaida, and groups that are closely associated with them, engaging in hostilities against the United States."

On the Trump administration's strategy for Syria

"I think there was a very coherent strategy that was continuous between the Obama and Trump administrations in terms of defeating ISIS in Syria. And after Raqqa fell,  that battlefield defeat was fairly plain. But then we've heard all kinds of rationales asserted for why U.S. troops need to stay in Syria. We're going to have a closed-door session later today with Secretary Mattis, the entire Senate, and those strategic questions, exactly what is the mission in Syria now, I know will be top of mind for all the committee members."

This article was originally published on April 17, 2018.

This segment aired on April 17, 2018.



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