(CNSNews.com) - It's no surprise that the executive branch believes in Article II of the Constitution, which makes the president commander-in-chief, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday evening.
"What should surprise and worry us, though, is that it seems like they also argue that they have virtually unlimited power to initiate and to execute war, and that's where the real problem comes here."
Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said "Initiation of war comes from Congress, and I believe that very strongly."
He was addressing Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told the committee Monday evening that Congress does not need to pass an updated authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). The U.S. military, now operating in Syria and across Africa, is relying on AUMFs passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda in 2001 and 2002.
Mattis testified that "a statement of continued congressional support" for ongoing military operations "would be welcome," but "a new AUMF is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS."
Paul said he has no desire to restrain military operations to engage and kill the enemy. But he said the Constitution gives Congress the power to initiate war, and he said Congress must reassert its power.
"It's been generation after generation of Congress just acquiescing in this. And while I applaud the AUMF that's being put forward as asserting our authority, if it doesn't limit the authority of the executive, I'm not sure we're a lot better.
Paul noted that the executive branch thinks the proposed AUMF is too restrictive, but it still authorizes war in 34 countries.
Paul said the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs deal with the enemies who attacked us on 9/11. "Nobody in Niger has anything to do with 9/11, other than they have sort of this ideology of radical Islam. But I don't think we gave the Executive Branch a blanket authority just to go to war anywhere they want against people who they say are part of radical Islam.
"Ultimately, there's going to have to be diplomacy involved in this as well. You know, how are we ever going to end the war? Is there ever an end to this war?
"But really the crux of the argument is over who has the power. You say you've got it," Paul told Mattis and Tillerson.
"The Constitution was very clear. We were supposed to initiate war. It doesn't matter whether it's a state or a non-state actor. Initiation of war comes from Congress, and I believe that very strongly. And I think if we all did, we should assert our power.
"We have the ability to assert our power, and we should resist when the administration -- anyone -- Republican or Democrat comes before us and tells us they believe they have the ability to have preemptive war anywhere, anytime and they have the ability to continue to fight a war against an ideology wherever they perceive it to be.
"So I think it's very, very dangerous, and this should be a wake-up call to all of us."
Paul noted that James Madison, the framer of the Constitution, wanted to "pit ambition against ambition, so we would check and balance each other. We haven't been checking and balancing the executive branch for 60 some odd years, maybe longer. So we need to stand up. And that's my admonition to our body."