Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) began on Wednesday to filibuster the Senate vote on confirming John Brennan to be CIA director, saying he is blocking the vote because of President Obama’s claimed authority to assassinate American citizens in the drone war without due process.
“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul said. “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
Paul warned he might block the vote on Brennan if he was still unsatisfied with the Obama administration’s response to his repeated inquiries on the question of killing US citizens in the drone war.
In a letter responding to Paul’s questions, the Obama administration’s Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that the President does have the authority to kill US citizens on US soil without any due process.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder wrote.
The back-and-forth began after the leaking of a Justice Department white paper on targeted killings of US citizens, which was written to retroactively justify the CIA’s assassination, on the orders of the President, of US-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. Other Americans have also been killed in the drone war, including AbdulRahman Awlaki, Anwar’s 16-year old son.
Paul’s filibuster drew comparison’s to actor Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of Jefferson Smith in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a character who filibusters by forcing debate for 24-hours.
“Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a President to say he might kill Americans?” Paul asked. “But he will judge the circumstances, he will be the sole arbiter, he will be the sole decider, he will be the executioner in chief if he sees fit.”
“No one person, no one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country,” Paul continued.
Paul summed up the purpose of his ongoing filibuster, which at the time of this writing is approaching six hours, when he said “I’m asking the President to state clearly that he’s not in favor of summary executions.”
Paul was eventually joined by a few of his Senate colleagues, including Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and others.
More than four and a half hours into the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid interrupted Paul’s wide-ranging speech by proposing 90 more minutes of debate, and then allowing the vote.
Rand Paul formally objected, insisting that he would end the filibuster immediately, only if President Obama declares “the drone program will not kill Americans who are not involved in conflict. If not, I will continue to object.”
Late into the evening, a visibly tired Senator Paul made a proposal. If adopted unanimously by the Senate, Paul said, he would end the filibuster immediately.
The proposal was a non-binding resolution opposing the President’s ability to kill Americans in drone strikes on US soil. Senator Dick Durbin, speaking for the majority, rose to say he objects to Paul’s non-binding resolution.