Just months after expressing reluctance to intervene in the Middle East, Senator Rand Paul is calling for war.
The Kentucky Republican's transformation from skeptic to war hawk comes months before likely testing the waters for a 2016 White House bid. His continued shift sets him apart from the rest of his party -- for better or worse. A Bloomberg News poll out Monday showed Paul's popularity: 65% of voters said they had a favorable opinion of the senator and he polled well in the divided Republican field as a potential candidate.
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"When Congress comes back into session in December, I will introduce a resolution to declare war against ISIS. I believe the President must come to Congress to begin a war and that Congress has a duty to act. Right now, this war is illegal until Congress acts pursuant to the Constitution and authorizes it," Paul said in a statement on his website, including a copy of the resolution.
Paul's plan comes just as President Barack Obama aims to get Congress to authorize the use of force in both countries. "War cannot be initiated without Congress," he said.
The president began using airstrikes against the Islamic State earlier this fall as the terrorist jihadist group began making significant gains in northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. The day after the Nov. 4 midterm elections, Obama announced he’d seek more explicit approval from Congress for the military campaign, despite maintaining that he already has the legal authority.
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Paul, a typically cautious voice within a hawkish party, outlined a war limited both in scope and time. But his proposal for a declaration of war—something Congress hasn’t done since World War II—also represents an escalation of sorts. As the Republican hurries to shed his "isolationist" rap ahead of 2016, the decision could rankle his more libertarian supporters.
The Republican senator -- who argued earlier this month that Obama's intervention in the Middle East is illegal -- was quick to remind that he doesn’t support the way Obama has gone about fighting ISIS. He said that just as conservatives oppose the president’s immigration ruling, they should oppose his intervention in Iraq and Syria.
“Conservatives are mad at him about immigration. And they’re mad about him using executive authority on Obamacare,” Paul told the New York Times. “But this is another example where he doesn’t have much respect for Congress, and some conservatives don’t quite get that.”
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Paul is likely to get push-back on Capitol Hill for both declaring war and limiting its scope, with some saying it's too strong a declaration, while others argue the restrictions could leave America's armed forces hamstrung.
On the left, however, Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine has a very similar plan.
“Rand and I, we see very closely on this issue,” the Democratic senator told the Times. “We both feel like you can’t have a war without congressional authorization of some kind. Congress cannot just let this power rest down at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”