(CNN) – Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on Friday called on Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to resign, rebuking him for telling a congressional panel that the U.S. would “seek international permission” before intervening in the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
“I have been told that the secretary of defense has suggested that international agreements override the Congress,” Gingrich told supporters in Gulfport, Mississippi. “If he believes that, he should resign tonight.”
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Responding to a statement that the U.S. was placing military resolutions of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League ahead of those made by Congress, Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday: "You know, our goal would be to seek international permission. And we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this, whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress."
Later in the day, a defense official told CNN that Panetta’s comments could be taken out of context.
"He was re-emphasizing the need for an international mandate. We are not ceding U.S. decision-making authority to some foreign body," the official said.
But Gingrich said the secretary’s comments showed “how radical this administration is.”
“The time has come for us to focus on American interests. And I want you to know that the foreign policy I would follow starts with American values, American interests and American institutions,” he said.
At rally earlier Friday in Mobile, Alabama, Gingrich added, “Leon Panetta is the United States secretary of defense, not the United Nations secretary of defense.”
The U.S. Constitution stipulates that the power to declare war rests with Congress, and the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces.
Gingrich is not the first presidential candidate to call for Panetta’s resignation. At a November CNN presidential debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the defense secretary should resign in protest of defense cuts that were to be triggered by a budget supercommittee stalemate.
And Panetta is not the first Obama administration official who Gingrich has said should resign. Three other Cabinet secretaries – Attorney General Eric Holder, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar - have gained his ire, as has Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the “White House czars.”
“The first executive order I sign will abolish as of that moment every White House czar,” he said at a late February rally in Dalton, Georgia.
– CNN’s Shawna Shepherd, Chris Lawrence and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.