Push for fast approval of CIA nominee hits snag
Posted: March 6, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
WASHINGTON — A bid by Senate Democrats on Wednesday for fast confirmation of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director hit a snag after a small group of Republican senators and a lone Democrat engaged in a lengthy discussion over the legality of potential drone strikes on U.S. soil.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced earlier in the day when the weather in Washington threatened to complicate travel plans that he was pushing to get a Senate confirmation vote quickly so senators would make appropriate arrangements.
But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stalled the chamber just before noon to start what he called a filibuster of Brennan's nomination. Paul's remarks were centered on what he said was the Obama administration's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes inside the United States against American citizens. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined Paul several hours after he began speaking. Wyden has long pressed for greater oversight of the use of drones.
Attorney General Eric Holder told Paul in a March 4 letter that the federal government has not conducted such operations and has no intention of doing so. But Holder also wrote that he supposed it was possible under an "extraordinary circumstance" that the president would have no choice but to authorize the military to use lethal force inside U.S. borders. Holder cited the attacks at Pearl Harbor and on Sept. 11, 2001, as examples.
Paul said he held no personal animosity against President Barack Obama or Brennan and that his concerns were not exclusive to the Obama administration. He also didn't dispute that the president has the authority to take swift and lethal action against an enemy that carried out a significant attack against the United States. But Paul said he was "alarmed" at how difficult it has been to get the administration to clearly define what qualifies as a legitimate target of a drone strike.
"No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner," Paul said.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Paul, Brennan said the CIA does not have authority to conduct lethal operations inside the U.S.
Reid, meanwhile, said he intends to file a motion to cut off Senate debate, but he would need 60 votes to end debate and advance Brennan's nomination.
Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more details.