In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Rand Paul said the only way you can stop people who believe the president has the ultimate authority on war like Lindsey Graham is defunding a war. Paul was responding to Graham's accusation that he "empowering the enemy" by playing games with the "unconstitutional" War Powers Act. Paul called the Trump administration's reasoning for the Soleimani strike an "insult to the constitution."
"I think it's sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism, and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot," Paul said Wednesday. "For him to insult and say that somehow we're not as patriotic as he is, he hasn't even read the history of the Constitution. The Constitution specifically says that the war-making power is -- resides in Congress."
"He believes in this unitary theory of the executive, that presidents can do whatever they want," Paul continued. "The only way you can stop them is by defunding a war. That's not what our founding fathers said. It's not what the Constitution says. And he insults the Constitution, our founding fathers and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He is a key member of both the Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.
Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): No problem.
BLITZER: And we could certainly hear how angry Senator Mike Lee, your friend, your colleague from Utah, was after this briefing.
As you heard, he said it was the worst briefing he had on a military issue in his entire time in the Senate.
I know you can't talk about specifics about classified information, but tell us what it was all about, that briefing, the tone of the officials and what caused your angry reaction.
PAUL: Well, it's an insult to the Constitution.
The Constitution said the power to declare war was to be given to Congress. They specifically did not give that power to the president.
In the briefing and in public, this administration has argued that the vote to topple Saddam Hussein in 2002 now applies to military action in Iraq. That is absurd.
Nobody in their right mind with a straight face with an ounce of honesty can argue that, when Congress voted to go after Saddam Hussein in 2002, that that authorized military force against an Iranian general 18 years later.
If we need to be at war, we debate it in the open, in public, and we have a public vote in the Senate and the House. That's the way you go to war.
Now, we're not quite at war, and I hope that this will be an isolated killing. And, look, I'm a fan of the president. I think the president has shown remarkable restraint in many areas of foreign policy.
But on the idea of who has the power, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat president, I'm consistent. The Constitution gave that power to Congress. And Congress has abdicated that power.
Mike Lee and I are standing up for it.
BLITZER: Well, listen to Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican.
He just reacted to what he heard you say and what he heard Senator Lee say. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think they're overreacting, quite frankly. Go debate all you want to. I'm going to debate you, trust me.
I'm going to -- I'm going to let people know that, at this moment in time, to play this game with a war powers act, which I think is unconstitutional, is that, whether you mean to or not, you're empowering the enemy.
I know you don't mean to, but we live in the real world here. So debate all you want. This is a constitutional democracy, but get ready for a lively debate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard what he said. He's accusing you and Senator Lee of empowering the enemy, his words, empowering the enemy by supporting this war powers resolution.
I need your response.
PAUL: I think it's sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism, and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot.
Look, I love my country. I have many family members who have served in the military and continue to serve in the military. I love my country as much as the next guy.
But for him to insult and say that somehow we're not as patriotic as he is, he hasn't even read the history of the Constitution. The Constitution specifically says that the war-making power is -- resides in Congress.
He believes in this unitary theory of the executive, that presidents can do whatever they want. The only way you can stop them is by defunding a war. That's not what our founding fathers said. It's not what the Constitution says. And he insults the Constitution, our founding fathers and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism.
I think that's a low, gutter type of response.
BLITZER: Yes, he's saying that you and Senator Lee are empowering the enemy of the United States.
Senator Lee also said the message in the classified briefing that you and your fellow senators got, he said that you -- the message was, you need -- quote -- "to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public."
Do you feel the administration wants you to fall in line and be good little boys and good little girls?
PAUL: Well, to me, this is much bigger than the Trump administration.
This question we have about who has the war-making power, this goes back to Truman in 1950. We have fought war after war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, without truly having them authorized by Congress. And so it's been a tug of war.
And many people have written that Congress and senators have abdicated their role in declaring war. And that's absolutely true.
So, what Senator Lee and I are doing are standing up and saying, the power resides in Congress, and we're going to fight for it. It's not a personal fight. I don't dislike President Trump. I'm going to support him in his campaign. I think he has many good attributes and has done a lot of good things for the country.
But on this specific issue, I do believe there's a separation of power. It's a tug of war. And Congress should assert themselves and say, the war-making power was given to us. The main reason the war- making power was given to Congress is, our founding fathers did not want perpetual war.
I don't think the president does either. But the best way to make war less likely is to divide that power up and not let it reside in the hands of one person.
BLITZER: After today's intelligence briefing that you and your colleagues received, do you believe the strike on Soleimani was wrong? Or are you just upset about the process?
PAUL: Well, it's a little bit of both.
I think that, constitutionally, presidents need to ask for permission to go to war. And I think killing a major general of another country is an act of war.
Do I mourn for Soleimani? No. I think he was an evil person.
But the question isn't whether someone is evil. It's whether or not eradicating that evil person will lead to a better outcome for America, for our country.
So, Saddam Hussein was an evil guy. But when we got rid of him, Iraq descended into chaos. And now Iraq is allied with Iran. The whole irony of this is now, we're still plowing billions of dollars into Iraq. But Iraq likes Iran better than us. Iran is more of a menace because of the Iraq War.
This is what the Cheneys never understood. They gave us this war. They're still unrepentant. And much of the Republican Caucus is still guided and still loves the Cheney philosophy that the Iraq War was great.
But the Iraq War led to this mess. President Trump actually gets that. And that's one of the things I like about him. But, still, we have a tug of war over whose power it is.
BLITZER: Did you get any evidence, any intelligence -- and I know you can't release classified information. But did you get some specific information that there was an imminent threat to American military personnel, American diplomats within a matter of days, and that was the reason they decided to kill Soleimani?
PAUL: There was no specific information given to us of a specific attack. Generalities, stuff you read in the newspaper was given to us.
I didn't learn anything in the hearing that I hadn't seen in a newspaper already. And none of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.
I'm not saying that -- really, the world being rid of Soleimani is probably a good thing. But, in the end, how we go about it and what are the ramifications of it are very important.
I think it's much -- it's made it much more difficult to have engagement or any kind of diplomacy with Iran. I doubt they will be coming to the negotiating table any time soon.
And so really this is a question I ask every day. Are sanctions working? Does maximum pressure work? Is it making it more or less likely that Iran will come to the table?
I think getting out of the nuclear agreement, placing an embargo on them, and killing their major general all add up to obstacles to diplomacy, and are making it much less likely that we have diplomacy, and actually much more likely that we will have attacks on Americans. And that's what we're seeing.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Senator.
It was a 75-minute closed-door highly classified briefing from top administration officials. And you say they did not give you any specific information to justify the killing of Qasem Soleimani?
PAUL: There were -- there was general information given, but no specifics
BLITZER: Did you press? Did you say, can you give us some specifics? And what did they say?
PAUL: We were -- pressed continued questions. Only about a dozen senators were allowed to ask questions. And when pressed on whether or not they would return, there was sort of a negative response, that there wasn't guarantee they'd have time to come back.
And so, really, this is the whole point. The administration -- and not just this administration, but Democrats as well -- have said, oh, we will consult with you.
That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution says, you have to ask our permission. So, instead, we get a little bit of consultation after the fact. But that's not what the Constitution says. And if that's the standard we're going to have, we will have a lot of war.
So, the people who don't want perpetual war -- and the president says he doesn't want perpetual war. We need to limit the power of the executive. But that's hard to get executives to agree to, Republican or Democrat.
BLITZER: Yes, you told me the other day you think the president is simply getting bad advice from some of his friends and advisers.
You still believe that, right?
PAUL: Yes, I think that, if you want to have an off-ramp -- let's say that you want sanctions to work.
And this is a point I made again to the secretary of state today. If you're going to put maximum pressure on Iran, you also have to have conversation with them. So, if you have to stick over here, you got to have a carrot over here.
And the carrot at least has to be conversation. We have no communication with the Iranians. We -- our State Department doesn't talk to their state department.
So, how could we possibly give them an off-ramp if there are no conversations? So, I have been one advocating, both in public and in private, there needs to be some conversations.
I'm happy to be part of it. But there needs to be some conversations. And there aren't any conversations, so how can there be an off-ramp if there are no conversations?