Today at 11:45 AM, Kentucky Sen. Ran Paul took to the Senate floor to filibuster John Brennan, who is President Obama's nominee to lead the CIA. President Obama's recent nominees have faced rocky roads - Chuck Hagel for Defense more than all the others - but none rose to the level of a grandstanding filibuster.
And it's not because of Benghazi.
No, leading Republicans made their Benghazi stand against Sen. Chuck Hagel. But Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain finally relented and allowed a vote on Hagel to go through. John Brennan has been a leading voice on President Obama's drone program. The drone program has largely been criticized by civil libertarians due to its secrecy and the Obama Administration's refusal to give solid answers on how and why certain people get targeted for the program.
Sen. Paul was joined three hours into his filibuster by Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), successively, to really hammer home the obfuscations of the Obama Administration when it comes to the legal regime under which drones can be used. [UPDATE: As of 4:30 pm, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) have joined in as well. Wyden's participation officially makes this a bipartisan filibuster of President Obama's nominee.]
Guy wrote earlier on the Administration's slippery legal answer about the use of drones on American citizens inside America. What's troubling is that, basically, President Obama has not provided an answer on his legal authority to assassinate American citizens inside America:
An American president order the use of lethal military force inside the US is "entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront," Holder wrote.
This is fairly alarming - something that Sen. Paul has said many times during his current filibuster. "When we ask the President, 'can you kill Americans on American soil with drone strikes?'... it should be an easy answer."
Paul admits that his task is impossible. John Brennan will likely be confirmed as CIA director. "Ultimately, I can't win," Paul said. "There's not enough votes... I've chosen to make a stand on this one. And not so much on the person, but because of the principle on this." His goal is to raise awareness about the drone program - and the secrecy, abuse and obfuscations that the Obama Administration has engaged in, such as the following:
16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. As reported by the Washington Post, "no one in the Obama Administration, Pentagon or Congress has taken responsibility for his death, or even publicly acknowledged that it happened."
Anwar al-Awlaki is the highest-profile American citizen targeted by the drone program. He was a senior member of al-Qaeda and a chief propagandist for the organization. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was Anwar's 16-year-old son - and someone that the Obama Administration has never claimed was a terrorist or an "imminent threat" to the security of the United States.
Sen. Paul referenced Conor Friedersdorf's work for The Atlantic, where he's been one of the foremost voices on the abuses of the Obama drone program. In the piece "Obama's Execution of the Drone War Should Terrify Even Drone Defenders," Friedersdorf writes:
The Obama Administration isn't just assassinating an unprecedented number of individuals. It is doing so in a secret, unaccountable manner that lacks transparency or a meaningful check on the power of the executive... Most important of all, is it imprudent to give this president and all future presidents the unchecked power to kill in secret? Or does human nature and the framework of checks and balances devised by America's founders suggest that multiple layers of oversight is the wiser course?
The Obama Administration has answered these questions indefensibly, but the president's defenders go right on defending his drone program with the inadequate argument that it is theoretically justified.
Sen. Paul also pointed to Kevin Williamson's work for National Review - in which he noted that the logic that President Obama has given on the drone program should be worrisome for Americans concerned about the First Amendment.
If sympathizing with our enemies and propagandizing on their behalf is the equivalent of making war on the country, then the Johnson and Nixon administrations should have bombed every elite college campus in the country during the 1960s. And as satisfying as putting Jane Fonda on a kill list might have been, I do not think that our understanding of the law of war would encourage such a thing, even though she did give priceless aid to the Communist aggressors in Vietnam. Students in Ann Arbor, Mich., were actively and openly raising funds for the Viet Cong throughout the war.
The question of whether al-Awlaki in fact took up arms against the United States is unanswered, at least in my mind. The evidence suggests that he was very much the “bin Laden of the Internet” rather than a man at arms. What perplexes me is that so many conservatives trust the same government authorities who got it so spectacularly wrong about al-Awlaki the first time around — feting him at the Pentagon, treating him as an Islamic voice of reason — to get it right the second time around. This is not a libertarian criticism but a conservative one. It is entirely possible that the same unique strain of stupidity that led to al-Awlaki’s being invited to the Pentagon as an honored guest of the U.S. military is alive and well in the Obama administration. This is precisely why we have institutions such as the separation of powers, congressional oversight, and trials. Killing a U.S. citizen in the heat of battle is one thing, but Al-Awlaki was not killed in a battle; he was not at arms, but at breakfast. Enemy? Obviously. Combatant? Not obviously.
These are the reasons why Republicans are filibustering President Obama's nominee for CIA. It's notable that many in the conservative defense policy establishment have largely brushed aside the concerns being raised by Sen. Paul today. Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Townhall that "there is more than enough [legal] justification for the drone program." Steve Bucci, defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told Townhall "I don't have any problem and neither does Heritage with the policy and the program that's been run. We think it's kind of settled legal ground from the previous administration."