A Republican irate over the Obama administration’s refusal to rule out drone strikes on US soil took to the Senate floor Wednesday in a classic filibuster to block the president’s CIA nominee.
The issue gained further currency on Capitol Hill with senators from both parties pressing US Attorney General Eric Holder for more details on whether the administration believes such attacks could be justified.
Senator Rand Paul began by saying he will “speak until I can no longer speak,” and demanding answers from President Barack Obama on the secret unmanned aerial drone program that has emerged as the most contentious element of John Brennan’s nomination to head the spy agency.
The Senate Democratic leadership said they intended to move this week on a full confirmation vote for Brennan.
His nomination easily cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday despite some Republican concerns about lack of transparency from the White House on last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.
Paul threatened to filibuster Brennan’s nomination as early February 13, when he demanded answers from the administration about the president’s power to authorize lethal force.
Holder responded Tuesday, stressing that while Obama had “no intention” of ordering drone strikes on US soil, the scenario could be possible if there was an “extraordinary circumstance” such as an attack similar to 9/11.
Paul described the refusal to comprehensively rule out such a strike as “more than frightening,” then took to the floor Wednesday to describe the policy as an “abomination.”
And he insisted that his critique was not partisan. “Were this a Republican president I’d be here saying exactly the same thing.”
Paul began his filibuster at 11:47 am (1637 GMT), and he was going strong more than two hours later, recalling the classic “talking filibusters” of old.
But he suggested he could end his speech in a moment if Obama provided him with assurances that, “no, we won’t drop bombs on restaurants” where a suspect was inside.
The issue became the focal point at a Wednesday hearing where another Republican, Ted Cruz, confronted Holder about drones.
Cruz asked Holder whether the Constitution would allow a drone strike on an individual sitting at a cafe “if that individual is not posing an imminent and immediate threat of death or bodily harm.”
Holder said “I would not think that that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force,” but he declined to answer directly.
That prompted a fierce response from Cruz, who said it was “remarkable” that the administration could not state unequivocally that such a strike would not be legally allowed.