Senator Rand Paul conducted an old-fashioned
six thirteen-hour long talking filibuster on the floor of the US Senate against the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA because he was rightly concerned that the Obama administration would not state unequivocally that the answer was ‘no’ to the question “Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?”
As David Weigel reports, the filibuster failed to stop the advance of Brennan’s nomination but it was a success in that it has brought this issue much greater attention than I am sure that Obama would have liked.
What followed, for more than six hours, was a plain-talking series of arguments, precedents, and hypotheticals about an opaque issue: Can the executive branch assassinate American citizens without due process? “The 1947 National Security Act says the CIA doesn’t operate in our country,” Paul said. “Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the Twin Towers whether they can be repulsed by the military. Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled. They don’t get their day in court. But if you are sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich., if you happen to be an Arab-American who has a relative in the Middle East and you communicate with them by email and somebody says, ‘Oh, your relative is someone we suspect of being associated with terrorism,’ is that enough to kill you?”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder had his biannual appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was grilled by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on this issue. For the longest time, Holder tried to evade giving a direct answer to Cruz’s simple and direct question: “If an individual is sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?”
Holder tried to play it cute by pretending he didn’t understand the question and dodging and weaving but Cruz was sharp and relentless in demanding an answer and at the end Holder conceded, sort of, that it was unconstitutional and that is what he had been saying all along. The exchange is very revealing and worth watching.
Holder said it in such a way that he perhaps thought he could backtrack later but Cruz promises to introduce legislation this week to “make clear that the US government cannot kill a US citizen on US soil absent an imminent threat”. It will be interesting to see how people line up on that issue.