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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Rand Paul (Rep – KY) would have made Jefferson Smith proud as he stood on the Senate floor for almost thirteen hours to filibuster the confirmation of John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Paul appealed to Americans to do what was right— in this case, to appeal to those in Washington to rethink the use of drones.
Paul has long been a critic of President Obama’s drone policy, and he is not alone. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Rep – KY) said he would continue to oppose Brennan’s confirmation and work to hold up confirmation of Brennan as long as possible.
The need to draw such dramatic attention to the issue was partly prompted by a letter from Senator Paul to Attorney General Eric Holder in which he pressed for clarification of the President’s policies.
Holder is on record as saying the administration rejects the use of military force when law enforcement authorities provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. But when Paul asked directly in his letter if there was ever justifiable reason for drone attacks on American citizens on American soil, Holder gave room for that possibility.
In his answer to Paul’s letter, Holder said it was possible, “I suppose,” to imagine an “extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate” under U.S. law for the president to authorize the military to “use lethal force” within the United States.
Senator Paul responded later that day by saying: “The U.S. attorney general’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening. It is an affront to the constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
Jeffrey Toobin, a CNN senior legal analyst, said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” that Holder’s answer made it clear that he would have to examine the facts of each situation individually and then advise the president on his legal authority. “He made a point of saying Sen. Rand Paul’s question is hypothetical at this time,” said Toobin. “But at some point down the road, this may not be hypothetical.”
At one point in his filibuster, Paul said, “”No president has the right to say he is judge, jury, and executioner.” It was obvious the Senator is not satisfied that he or the American people have been offered a clear answer.
As in most filibusters, the Senate chambers were all but empty, but cameras ran, and that was what Paul was looking for. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie, Paul was appealing to the American people to hear the facts. He read from notebooks brimming with articles about the expanded use of unmanned weapons that have become the favored weapon in the Obama administration’s arsenal to take down al-Qaida suspects overseas.
At one point in the night, Paul offered to allow a vote on Brennan if the Senate would vote on his resolution stating that the use of the unmanned, armed aircraft on U.S. soil against American citizens violates the Constitution. Democrats rejected the offer.
Republicans Lindsay Graham and John McCain were notably absent as they and other invited Republicans were at a dinner with the President. But present and in support were fellow Republican Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Tim Scott of South Carolina, John Thune of South Dakota, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, also made an appearance. Wyden has long pushed for greater oversight of the use of drones.
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