CHEYENNE – Despite a rally for the legislation earlier that day led by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a bill that would have required a congressional declaration of war for Wyoming National Guard troops to be deployed failed to be introduced Friday afternoon.
The legislation failed by a wide margin in the House, with 22 representatives voting in favor of the proposal – 18 short of the necessary threshold to gain introduction. During the rally earlier that day, the sponsor of House Bill 98, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, acknowledged “it’s going to be a tough vote,” but emphasized the need for Congress to take responsibility for these wars.
“Stand by your principles, and that way we can hold you responsible if we’re there 19 years later with our sons and daughters dying,” Lindholm said.
After the House Majority Whip spoke at the rally, Paul stepped up to the podium. An outspoken critic of the ongoing presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. senator noted some troops in Afghanistan were born after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, arguing “another generation shouldn’t die on another generation’s dime.”
Paul said he would’ve voted in favor of going to war after 9/11, but the senator argued that mission was essentially completed within a year of going to war.
“There really isn’t a mission in Afghanistan anymore,” said Paul, mentioning the Afghan Papers and the broad sense among military officials that the war lacked a mission. “And yet we still can’t stop the war, so that’s why I’m here. I’ve come to Wyoming, because in D.C., they’re not listening to you.”
The rally also drew former U.S. congresswoman and current U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis, who spoke after Paul during the event. Lummis said she wouldn’t try to push state lawmakers to vote a certain way.
“But I will tell you this: We’ve lost 21 soldiers in just a little over a year in Afghanistan, and we’ve got 13,000 troops in Afghanistan,” Lummis said. “We’re spending $52 billion on it now, and that’s downscaled from over $100 billion when I was in Congress.”
Lummis argued the American troops serving in Afghanistan “don’t know what the mission is anymore.”
“Because so many of us can’t answer that question, it is time for the discussion that Sen. Paul and our own Tyler Lindholm are starting with us today,” she added.
However, a statement sent by a group of six state senators before the vote Friday highlighted the criticisms of many in the Legislature. Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said the legislation “sends the wrong message to those serving in the National Guard.”
“It calls into question Wyoming’s support for our soldiers and airmen in the National Guard,” said Pappas, a veteran of the Wyoming Air National Guard. “What’s more, this misguided legislation operates under the false premise that the governor has the ability to withhold the Wyoming National Guard from federal duty – a theory the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down.”
In an interview after the rally, Lindholm said he had heard rumors that the Pentagon could threaten to withhold a few C-130s for Wyoming if the bill passed.
“It kinda proves my point, which is that this is the right thing to do,” Lindholm said. “If they’re threatening funds, all I’m threatening is that you have to declare war, and they’re threatening livelihoods.”
But the lawmakers who signed onto the statement disagreed. They argued the bill would have serious implications for local communities that support the Guard.
“This type of legislation is dangerous and undermines the laudable mission of the Wyoming Military Department,” Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said in the statement.
Lindholm was aware of similar proposals in 10 other states, and Paul said he plans to continue speaking out in favor of the concept nationwide.
“I think our soldiers deserve better,” Paul said. “If you’re going to lay your life on the line, you deserve to know what the mission is, and Congress should vote.”