March 8, 2013

Drone deal wins vote for Brennan

The CIA chief is confirmed after the administration clarifies limits on attacks on Americans in the U.S.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Senate confirmed John Brennan to be CIA director Thursday after the Obama administration bowed to demands from Republicans blocking the nomination and stated explicitly there are limits on the president's power to use drones against U.S. terror suspects on American soil.

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Rand Paul
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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., ends his filibuster Thursday against confirming John Brennan to be CIA director.

The Associated Press


Call it Rand's Stand: A nearly 13-hour stall tactic on the Senate floor that thrust a tea party hero back into the national spotlight -- a real-life version of the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster on Wednesday of President Obama's pick for CIA director was the latest notable move by the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul. A freshman senator, Rand Paul is a growing political force in his own right. The eye doctor challenged the Republican Party's establishment in his state to win his seat in 2010 and now commands attention as a defender of limited government.

Paul, a critic of Obama's aerial drone policy, started his long speaking feat just before noon Wednesday by demanding that the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring him the unmanned aircraft would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens.

"I will speak until I can no longer speak," Paul said.

Paul could not find support among some mainstream Republicans, but he appeared to have gained stature among those in the far right.

Paul's performance turned into a trending topic on Twitter and prompted a torrent of phone calls from tea party supporters urging senators to support him.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee used the filibuster to raise about $75,000 for GOP candidates.

At 12 hours, 52 minutes, the filibuster was roughly the same length as the six "Star Wars" films combined.

Paul first stepped onto the national stage in 2010 when he vanquished Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's chosen Kentucky candidate in a GOP primary.

Since then, he's embraced the popularity he has in the tea party and has inherited his father's libertarian-leaning political network, built over two failed Ron Paul presidential runs. All that has stoked belief in GOP circles that Paul may be positioning himself for a future national campaign, possibly as early as 2016.

Paul, 50, has been difficult to pigeonhole in the Senate.

He was one of four Republicans to support Obama's nomination of former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as defense secretary, yet he used his tea party response to Obama's State of the Union address to blast what he called the president's belief in more debt and higher taxes.

-- The Associated Press

The vote was 63-34 and came just hours after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, held the floor past midnight in an old-style filibuster of the nomination to extract an answer from the administration.

Still, Brennan won some GOP support. Thirteen Republicans voted with 49 Democrats and one independent to give Brennan, who has been President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, the top job at the nation's spy agency. He will replace Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after acknowledging an affair with his biographer.

Both of Maine's senators, Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, voted to approve Brennan.

The confirmation vote came moments after Democrats prevailed in a vote ending the filibuster, 81-16.

In a series of fast-moving events, by Senate standards, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a one-paragraph letter to Paul, who had commanded the floor for nearly 13 hours on Wednesday and into Thursday.

"It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?'" Holder wrote Paul.

"The answer to that question is no."

That cleared the way.

"We worked very hard on a constitutional question to get an answer from the president," Paul said after voting against Brennan. "It may have been a little harder than we wish it had been, but in the end I think it was a good healthy debate for the country to finally get an answer that the Fifth Amendment applies to all Americans."

However, Paul's stand on the Brennan nomination and insistence that the Obama administration explain its controversial drone program exposed a deep split among Senate Republicans, pitting leader Mitch McConnell, libertarians and tea partyers against military hawks such as John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The government's drone program and its use in the ongoing fight against terrorists were at the heart of the dispute.

Though Paul held the Senate floor for the late-night filibuster, about a dozen of his colleagues who share his views came, too, to take turns speaking for him and trading questions.

McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian who faces re-election next year, congratulated him for his "tenacity and for his conviction."

Paul's filibuster echoed recent congressional debates about the government's authority in the anti-terror war and whether the United States can hold American terror suspects indefinitely and without charge.

The disputes have created unusual coalitions as libertarians and liberals have sided against defense hawks.

King, in fact, made national headlines several weeks ago during Brennan's confirmation hearings when he called for an independent, quasi-judicial review system of targeted killings of U.S. citizens working on a high level with terrorist groups abroad.

But King said on Thursday that he did not believe targeted killings of citizens on U.S. soil were appropriate and so he was pleased with the Obama administration's response to Paul on Thursday.

During his talkathon, Paul suggested the possibility that the government would have used hellfire missiles against anti-war activist Jane Fonda or an American sitting at a cafe. During the height of the Vietnam War, Fonda was widely criticized by some in the U.S. for her appearances in North Vietnam.

McCain derided that notion of an attack against the actress and argued that Paul was unnecessarily making Americans fear that their government poses a danger.


-- Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this story.


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Politics poll: Brennan CIA

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