Foreign Policy Blogs

In honor of Congressman Walter Jones..

Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican who had represented North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district since 1995, died Sunday on his 76th birthday. Jones became ill in July 2018, when he began missing votes in the House of Representatives. He was re-elected unopposed in November, but was too weak to travel to Washington. Instead, his longtime colleague Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a Democrat from a neighboring district, traveled to Jones’s home in Farmville, North Carolina, to administer the oath of office.

Oneof the final television interviews that Jones gave before his illness was for an upcoming episode of Great Decisions about congressional oversight of executive authority. That episode, titled “War Powers: Congress and the President,” will air nationwide on PBS World on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. To commemorate Jones, we are releasing extended footage of our interview, which was filmed in his office on July 10, 2018.

Whenwe arrived, we spotted Jones’s door all the way from the elevator bank. Most hallways in the Rayburn House Office Building are bare, but Jones has covered his in an arresting tribute to every marine from Camp Lejeune who has been killed in action since 2001. Above the display was a stern note warning anyone who would seek to remove the photographs that they were protected by the First Amendment.

Overthe years, Jones has earned considerable media coverage for his insistence on sending a letter of condolence to the family of every American soldier who has died in combat. He takes the time to sign each letter personally, Jones told one interviewer, as a form of penance. He is eager to atone for a decision he has come to regret: voting in 2002 to authorize then-President George W. Bush to take military action against Iraq.

Jonesdiscussed that vote in our interview. He also reflected on what role Congress can play in ending the series of military conflicts that have embroiled the United States since 2001. Overall, Jones was pessimistic. He lambasted then-Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, for not scheduling a debate about American policy in Afghanistan. He accused the leadership of both parties, including Ryan, for being beholden to the military–industrial complex. And he expressed his exasperation with congressional colleagues who have refused to revisit the topic of military authorization. “Sometimes,” Jones told me, “I think Congress is in a coma.”

Inhis last years in office, Jones devoted himself to finding a way to use congressional authority to rein in executive power. In our interview, he discussed a resolution he was co-sponsoring with Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, H.Res 922, that would identify any future military action by any President without explicit congressional authorization as a violation of the Constitution and an impeachable offense.

Butto Jones, the issue went beyond Congress. “It takes the American people,” he told me. “The American people have got to understand that if they want to change a policy, they’ve got to be involved. You can’t trust this system up here. It’s not worthy to be trusted.”