Speaking at a fundraising event for two candidates for City Council in downtown Charlottesville on September 7, U.S. Representative Robert Hurt (R-VA5) expressed his “grave concerns” about whether the United States should launch a war against Syria and indicated that he is unlikely to vote to give the Obama administration authority to do so.
Hurt came to Charlottesville to endorse retired police sergeant Michael Farruggio and criminal defense attorney Charles “Buddy” Weber, who are seeking seats on City Council in the November 5 local election. After his speech, Hurt sat down outside Bashir’s Taverna on the downtown mall with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner for an exclusive interview.
Hurt admitted that he has limited knowledge of “the political climate, the political tally” of a potential vote on Syria by the House of Representatives, saying he knows as much as “most people who are following” the issue.
“I will say,” he added, “that the sentiment in our district, in the Fifth District, is overwhelmingly against getting involved.” Out of more than 1,200 telephone calls his office has received about Syria, only 20 or so have been in favor of military action.
“I have grave concern,” Hurt explained, “because I don’t believe the President at this point has articulated a clear, compelling American national security interest. That is his burden. It is his burden alone to make that case and in my opinion he has not” done so.
At the same time, he noted, “out of respect for the commander-in-chief,” he is willing to give President Obama “the opportunity to make that case next week when we get back to Washington. We’ll be able to participate in some classified briefings with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State.”
Until that happens, however, Hurt “can’t say how I will vote but I can tell you, at this point, I have not seen what I need to see to be able to support” military intervention in Syria.
Congressional primacy in foreign policy
Hurt’s eyes lit up when asked whether, regardless of the outcome of the particular situation in Syria, does he think that this episode presages a return to the primacy of Congress in making decisions on war and peace?
“I hope so,” he replied. “I certainly hope so, because I think that it is absolutely critical.”
Hurt pointed out that the Miller Center at the University of Virginia had sponsored a substantial amount of research and reflection on the War Powers Act, and acknowledged that Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) “and our Virginia senator, Tim Kaine, are vitally, very interested in this subject.”
He explained that “it is absolutely critical that the president in every instance – now, there may be variations, depending on the circumstances – but in every instance, ultimately get congressional approval to go to war.”
The reason for that, he said, is that “when we don’t, we end up in an open-ended situation in which the American people are not given an opportunity to be heard.”
Based on what his constituents have told him, Hurt continued, “I can tell you, because of the timing of this, with the Syria situation, the American people are educating themselves and the American people are being heard in a big way and that’s really, really important.”