Rand Paul Defends Constitution – Mounts Filibuster Against Drone Use *UPDATED*


It’s an iconic moment in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: a young, earnest Jimmy Stewart filibusters for hours, to the point of physical collapse, in order to prevent the Senate from passing an utterly corrupt piece of legislation.  Rand Paul took a page from this classic piece of Hollywood Americana and made it real.  As the Washington Times reported:

After years in the shadows, the administration’s secret drone program burst into very public view Wednesday with lawmakers grilling the attorney general over legal justification for targeted killings and Sen. Rand Paul launching an old-style one-man filibuster to demand answers from President Obama.

The Kentucky Republican held the floor for hours, effectively blocking a vote on the nomination of John O. Brennan, whom Mr. Obama has tapped to be CIA director. He said he would relent only if the administration publicly vowed not to target Americans on U.S. soil.

As Paul’s filibuster picked up speed, private emails, tweets, and Facebook posts flooded Mr. Conservative’s airways.  By the end of Paul’s epic 12 hour and 50 minute filibuster, which included reading from Alice in Wonderland, the verdict was in:

“History is being made.  Are you watching?” — private email

“I stand with Rand. What a country!” — Facebook post

“Rand Paul is starting to look like an important figure in history.” — Facebook post

“Thank you, SenRandPaul for literally standing up for liberty!” — tweet from John Maniscalco ‏@JohnRManiscalco

“Rand Paul. Stud. #StandWithRand” — tweet from Kurt Schlichter ‏@KurtSchlichter

“Rand Paul schooled the Senate and the country tonight.” Laura Ingraham ‏@IngrahamAngle

That sampling of just six highly approving statements comes from a pool of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of tweets and Facebook posts generated by delighted conservatives.

When Paul began his marathon run on the Senate floor, jaded politicians were unimpressed by what even Republicans viewed as a bit of political showboating.  After three hours, though, Republicans realized that they’d better get on the train or get out of the way.  One after another, they pledged their support to Paul as they made their way to the Senate floor.

Rand Paul

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was the first to get on board.  “Americans have every reason to be concerned any time the government wants to intrude on life, liberty or prosperity.  We’re talking here about the sanctity of human life.”

Lee was soon joined by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).  to his credit, Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.) added his stamp of approval to Paul’s efforts, saying he “appreciated” that Paul was attempting to draw attention to the issue.

The issue in question is the fact that the Obama administration has given itself permission to use drones on American soil, in situations both real and hypothetical.  In response to a letter Paul sent him asking about drone use on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder had conceded that there were hypothetical situations in which the executive office would have the right and the power to use a drone attack against an American citizen on American soil:

As members of this Administration have previously indicated, the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter, moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. . . .

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstances in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on his scope and authority.

Paul was not appeased by Holder’s statement that the president would use drones to executive people on American soil only in the event of a 9/11 type attack — that is, if the war was brought to America, rather than America heading overseas to a war.  Instead, Paul insisted that said he would only stop his filibuster when the president or Attorney General Eric Holder “put that in words” that they “will not kill non-enemy combatants” inside the United States.

Cliff notes version of drone debate

Although Paul did not get such a statement from either the president or Holder, he did manage to derail Sen. Leader Harry Reid’s plan to go forward with the vote on John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. After five hours, Reid gave up and terminated proceedings for the day. He expressed the hope that a vote on Brennan could go forward on Thursday.

Conservatives are very dubious about Brennan’s nomination. During hearings, he showed himself to be both more intelligent and more capable than either John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State, or Chuck Hagel, who is now Secretary of Defense.

Brennan’s loyalties, however, are suspect. He spent many years in Saudi Arabia and seems to be almost too comfortable with that country, to the point that a rumors circulated claiming that he is a convert to Islam. To the extent that conservatives side with Israel, which is a free, and democratic society that strongly supports America, while Brennan’s allegiance seems to be to a series of Middle Eastern tyrannies that are extremely hostile to America, as well as to women, gays, Bahais, Christians, Jews, atheists, etc., having Brennan serve as head of the CIA is suboptimal.

Rand Paul filibusters Nobel Prize winners drone policy

The last time the Senate saw this type of “speaking” filibuster was in 2010 when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Ver.) held the floor for eight hours protesting legislation aimed at extending the Bush-era tax cuts. In defense of the fact that he lasted almost five hours less than Paul, Sanders is (and was then) a much older man.

It remains to be seen whether Paul’s heroics will have any effect on Brennan’s ultimate nomination (which most Republicans concede will happen whether they like it or not) or on the administration’s putative right to use drones on American soil. What is certain is that he has greatly raised his profile with American conservatives, libertarians and, possibly, undecideds.

Although he hasn’t said so explicitly, Paul has made no secret of the fact that he is eying a presidential run in 2016. He’s tried to position himself as the main Washington D.C. spokesman for Tea Party interests (small government conservativism) and has worked hard to allay conservative Jews’ fears that he shares his father’s (Ron Paul’s) apparent dislike for Israel — a dislike that attracted an unnerving number of neo-Nazi types to Ron Paul’s failed presidential bid.  If Paul is looking to bolster himself in conservative eyes, today’s performance, which challenged an administration that is greedy for executive power and generally expanded government, was a very good start.

It's right for the government to kill American citizens

(Written by Bookworm; originally posted at Mr. Conservative.)

UPDATE: Power Line suggests that there may be more than a little (extreme) libertarian opportunism in Paul’s filibuster. Having read what they have to say. Paul made wonderful points about liberty and small government, but he made those points in the service of the wrong cause.

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  1. Mike Devx says

    I’m confused on the particulars here and could use some help.
    It’s my understanding that there is no controversy over such things as
    - The 9-11 sccenario, where a hijacked airplane is a threat.  The military is already fully justified in shooting it out of the sky.
    - The suitcase nuke terrorism scenario.  The military is fully justified in blowing them up, whether on the road or in a  house or dwelling.
    And so on.  I don’t think there’s any debate over whether to kill an American or foreigner that is an imminent, active military threat.  The answer is always yes, they can be summarily killed.
    The problem, I think, is that the Obama Executive branch is claiming it can take a non-military threat and decide, entirely within the Executive Branch, that it may use a drone to bomb and kill American citizens.  ”Entirely within the Executive Branch” means essentially that the President can simply give a thumbs up or down: judge, jury, executioner.  That its justifications for being allowed to do so remain too vague, and thus a violation of the Fifth Amendment: No person shall [...] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
    Let’s put it this way: At what point would a “current” president have been justified in drone-bombing Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dorhn during their activities with the Weather Underground?  Robbers on their way to a bank robbery or other large heist?  Or having successfully robbed a bank, while fleeing?  What if the money was intended to support an insurgency/terrorist operation?
    Just because this is high political theater, doesn’t necessarily make it grandstanding.  We could use a *lot* more high political theater on the conservative side!  I’m tired of the bean counters mumbling their way through bean counter arguments.  We want to take strong, compelling, theatrical philosophical stands!  We don’t need to produce a frickin’ treatise full of 724 pages of “on the other hand” nitpicking hairsplitting.  Sometimes “too simplistic” is perfectly fine for grabbing the American attention span for a few days.  Politics *is* theater.  I want to see more high drama in support of principled conservative philosophical stands!
    I’d love to hear more about what others think about whether this Rand Paul stand is a good one or not.  Like I said, I seem to be confused on the issues involved.

  2. JKB says

    Rand Paul has done a good thing by doing a standing filibuster.  The whining about the filibuster and the droning on by the in-power party over reforming it has been damaged.  Don’t like the paper filibuster, then require it to be done the old fashioned way.  At a minimum, we might be saved from useless old Senators pontificating while being unwilling to do anything about the “paper” filibuster.  
    The problem with Holder’s letter is he could not state the matter plainly.  Apparently, Ted Cruz did get holder to finally admit that the threat would need to be imminent but this isn’t, apparently, something the Obama Administration thinks about first and foremost.  That’s disturbing.  They may murder then scramble to create an imminent circumstance.  We should also pay attention to their non-imminent “imminent” justifications for drone killings of individuals overseas.  We should also keep in mind the justification for drone killing Americans overseas, that they were outside the effective reach of US law enforcement and even military ground units.  
    So, yes, there are times when deadly force might be justifiable for imminent threats to others (US residents) and the individual is beyond the reach of US law enforcement even with military assistance, i.e., the US is unable to exercise law enforcement in the territory and does not have effective sovereign control.  
    Take the planes on 9/11 for instance.  They were no longer under US sovereign control and beyond the reach of law enforcement and the military ground forces.  They posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to others.  It could be justified to destroy the planes, willfully killing the terrorists and innocent passengers, American and foreign, under self defense laws as defense of others.  
    One could conceive that if terrorists had a functional nuclear or biological weapon, premeditated deadly force could be justified under self defense laws, especially against snipers removing sentries (armed or unarmed) to permit entry by ground forces.  The threat of detonation would make the threat imminent and the scope of damage would mean death or serious bodily injury not only to the assault force but to others over a wide area as well.
    Conversely, the use of a drone to take out a suspected terrorist or radical, and his family, in a remote cabin in Idaho would not be justifiable under US law.  It would also be an open admission by the president that the US was unable to exercise sovereign control over that territory nor impose the rule of law.  That is, the US government, as well as the State government, do not control the territory even to the extent of deploying armed units to effect the enforcement of US laws.
    Apparently, the brainiacs at the Department of Justice are unable to articulate this or unwilling to limit their advice on the use of deadly force to situations justifiable under self defense (defense of others) laws.  A sad comment on our law schools, I suppose.

  3. cerumendoc says

    The real issue is entrusting the current occupants of the executive branch with such power.  There are cases in issues of imminent attack where American citizens could be killed on American soil for engaging in an attack on the US.  This distinction was not made by the administration and President “I am not a dictator” Obama.  This, further, is amid the background of domestic and ostensibly federal law enforcement agencies stocking up on ammunition and now the DHS stocking up on armored vehicles.  This doesn’t get into the fact that agencies that don’t have any front line law enforcement duties, such as the Social Security Administration or the Depart of Education have also been stocking up on ammo.
    The Constitution makes provisions for a formal armed force–Army and Navy–and conditions for going to war (including insurrections).  But, until recently, law enforcement has largely been a local affair.  Not the increasing federalization of law and law enforcement (Professor’s Reynolds’ “Ham Sandwich Nation”).  Not the increasing militarization of police forces.  
    For the non-low information voters who care for more than the next free phone and check from the government, the above is becoming increasingly worrisome; even if unfounded rumor.  
    The President is a citizen, who temporarily holds a job that makes him first among his peers.  I think, in picking this issue, Sen. Paul is really addressing the above issues. 

  4. 94Corvette says

    A week or so ago TCM showed “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” along with “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”.  I have “You Can’t Take It With You” on DVD so that week I scored a trifecta.  (I must confess, I am a Jean Arthur fan and if you’ve not discovered her wonderful catalog of movies, you’ve really missed something special). 
    Nearly eighty years ago we were being warned of the corruption and duplicity of our government.  Sadly, it has only gotten worse through the years and as I’ve watched even conservative voices prostitute themselves becoming entertainers instead of enlighteners, I’ve grieved.  Unless we the people stand up and stop the power grab by both Congress and the Presidency, we are doomed.  Can you imagine the response of this administration to the Branch Dividians?  It is really disconcerting to realize that the IRS, Homeland Security and other federal agencies have stockpiled 1.6 billion rounds of ammo over the past several months and are now procuring light armored vehicles.  If unilateral action against ordinary citizens ‘who may pose a danger’ is accepted, it will stifle honest dissent. 
    I sent an email to Senator Paul’s office yesterday letting him and his staff know that he has support for what he is trying to do.   

  5. Libby says

    If you watch yesterday’s exchange between Ted Cruz and AG Holder you’ll see why Rand Paul was concerned. In his letter to Paul, and in the video, Holder is intentionally vague and non-committal. Given Obama’s history of running roughshod over the Constitution (1st Amendment – HHS birth control mandate, 2nd Amendment – Fast & Furious, and 4th Amendment – DHS manhandling air travelers), it’s a legitimate concern. In addition, the administration has been performing foreign drone assassinations for years with no outside oversight.
    Holder and other Democrats like Durbin try to distract with mention of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, both instances acts of war by foreigners on US soil. However, we’ve seen the administration (in coordination with the SPLC) repeatedly demonize the Tea Party and other domestic conservative groups as America’s greatest threat. It’s not a giant leap to see the potential for them using these drones in non-9/11 type attacks on US citizens.

  6. JohnC says

    John McCain and Lindsey Graham went on the Senate floor today and stabbed Rand Paul in the back!
    “The entire conservative blogosphere was energized by Rand Paul’s defense of the Constitution, Due Process, and the American people yesterday, and McCain ridicules them as “impressionable libertarian kids”.
    Lindsey Graham also chimed in, saying he was “disappointed” with those who joined Paul’s filibuster, and added he would vote to confirm Brennan … because of the filibuster.”

  7. says

    I remember people telling me that it was Obama making the right “decision” to “kill” terrorists that had American citizenship in Afghanistan. What they didn’t seem to realize was that this ‘right decision’ amounts to the same as a tyrant killing thieves. It doesn’t end there.
    When one deals with evil, it never ends there. It’s never about evil people making the “Right decisions” that we should “support” because we are “fellow law abiding Americans”. It’s never about that, because it never ends there.
    Not yet though. People have not yet felt the boot on their backs yet. But soon. Soon they will.

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