Rand Paul's Filibuster Over Drones Raises Questions But Doesn't Block Brennan

4 years ago

Senator Rand Paul's nearly 13-hour Senate Floor filibuster holding up the nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency raised serious questions about the president's authority to initiate domestic drone strikes without due process.

But in the minds of fellow Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Paul's filibuster served as nothing more than an obstructionist stunt devolving a complicated antiterrorism conversation into silly straw man arguments.

“To allege that the United States, our government, would drop a drone Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda, that brings the conversation from a serious discussion about U.S. policy into the realm of the ridiculous,” McCain said.

Neither of the senators witnessed the filibuster; they opted to join President Obama and a dozen other senators for dinner at the Jefferson Hotel.


Despite the criticisms, Paul's filibuster did something rare - even unique - in American politics. It brought people of vastly opposing views to tune into C-SPAN not just for the sport of watching a man speaking until blue in the face, but in genuine interest of the issue.

Just as one amazing example of bi-partisan support, check out this Tweet from anti-war rabblerousers Code Pink:

There was more where that came from.

Apparently, the American Civil Liberties Union's pushed the Administration for information on the program for some time.

“It was a courageous and historic effort by Sen. Paul and his colleagues to demand information from this administration on an issue where they have refused to give it,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU.

The good senator from Kentucky took to the floor at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday morning vowing to "speak as long as long as it takes" until he hit transparency pay dirt.

Bold move. Risky even. Clearly, it rattled cages and cast the conservative in a new light - someone who wanted the Administration to be accountable to the public.

A recent Reason-Rupe Poll shows 57 percent of Americans believe Obama's current antiterrorism assasination program used by the CIA violates the Constitution.

In Paul's own words during his filibuster, the move was not about partisanship.

"I have allowed the president to pick his political appointees, but I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution. I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the president say he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking the country," Senator Rand Paul said.

He also directly addressed the concerns over his motives, as questioned by McCain and Graham:

"I don't question the president's motives. I don't think the president would purposely take innocent people and kill them. I really don't think he would drop a Hellfire missile on a cafe or a restaurant like I'm talking about. But it bothers me that he won't say that he won't," Paul said. "And it also bothers me that when he was a senator in this body and when he was a candidate, he had a much higher belief and standard for civil liberties, and that he seems to have lost that as he's become president."

Paul did not stand alone as C-SPAN continued picking up viewers. Fourteen other senators, including one Democrat, supported him in his mission for clarity from the president on the 5th Amendment. And in nostalgic tribute to the infamous "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibuster scenes, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois brought Paul an apple and a thermos of green tea. Others brought him throat lozenges and sweets.

The gesture helped to do more than just warm hearts. The tired and thirsty Paul later admitted to reporters as he left the floor he did not plan on the filibuster and unwittingly made a poor shoe selection that morning. 

But his efforts awakened a national discussion about civil liberties. Even today, #StandWithRand continues to trend in rapid stream on Twitter and those senators who did not stand with Rand may well continue hearing an earfull.

While the filibuster served to delay the vote, the Senate approved Brennan's appointment Thursday by a whopping 81-16 votes. Brennan is likely to win the final confimation approval to secure the position as head of the CIA.

What say you? Did you know about the domestic drone strike policy before Paul's filibuster? How do you feel about it?

Erica Holloway is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. Follow her @erica_holloway.

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