Rand Paul’s nearly 13 hour live filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA got support for the Kentucky Republican from some unlikely places.
“He’s using the filibuster the way it’s meant to be used,” said Jon Stewart, whose satire carries some political weight from his perch at “The Daily Show.”
Even some Democrats who want to end the use of the filibuster, like Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, had nice things to say about Paul’s effort, which actually targeted the Obama administration’s legal opinion that drones can be used to kill Americans abroad who are involved in terrorism.
Good for SenPaul-a talking filibuster to fight for an important ideal- unlike McConnell’s partisan silent filibusters designed to paralyze
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) March 7, 2013
The ACLU has doggedly sought information from the government through the Freedom of Information Act on drones and wholeheartedly supported Paul’s effort.
“It was a courageous and historic effort by Sen. Paul and his colleagues to demand information from this administration on an issue where they have refused to give it,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU. He said he hopes the ultimate broad Republican support for the filibuster signals a change in Congress.
“This is part of Congress reasserting its constitutional role of checks and balances between the president and the Congress. For too long on national security issues we’ve had congress out to lunch,” said Anders.
It might seem jarring that these liberals would be praising a Republican, but it is not. On this issue, their views are closer to Rand Paul’s than they are to President Obama’s. The ACLU has long criticized the extra-judicial nature of drones. Stewart has done a number of drone critical segments on his show, like “Game of Drones” from June 2012.
Merkley is to the left of President Obama on the war in Afghanistan and has led the charge in the Senate to push for a speedier withdrawal from the war even though he has not disputed the legality of drone strikes.
The greater victory for Paul in his filibuster Wednesday night may have come in rallying his own party.
Paul got support early on from younger Republicans who joined the Senate since 2010. The Tea Party influence was clear when Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas rose to give Paul brief breaks from talking. It was not until much later in the night that older establishment senators joined in.
Sens. John Thune, a South Dakotan and member of the GOP leadership team, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, came out to help Paul. Chambliss had opposed Brennan’s confirmation in committee, but was prepared to allow it go forward. Democrats, like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who have tried to get some of the same information from the White House on the targeted killing program that Paul was demanding found themselves in the uncomfortable position of opposing his filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this morning that he would oppose Brennan’s nomination. Brennan, he said, has spent too much time working at the White House and the White House has not been transparent enough.
“My greatest concern is that the director of Central Intelligence Agency must be entirely independent of partisan politics in delivering objective analysis and advice to the president,” said McConnell. “After four years of working within the White House, confronting difficult policy matters on a daily basis, and having attempted to defend the administration’s policies sometimes publicly, sometimes to the media, and occasionally to the U.S. Senate, I question whether Mr. Brennan can detach himself from those experiences. For that reason, I will oppose his nomination.”
McConnell, it should be said, does have other issues on which he agrees with the ACLU. He breaks with his party, for instance, on flag burning and has opposed laws that would forbid it.
But while McConnell opposes Brennan and wants the White House to be more open with Congress, it is not clear whether he or other Republicans will ultimately fight the targeted killing program.
Anders argued that politicians are starting to hear from the grassroots in both parties and he hopes that will change things.
“This killing program has been around for at least three years. There’s lots that could have happened earlier,” he said, arguing the filibuster has ignited a debate. “It has really caught fire on the conservative end of the spectrum. Part of what we might have been seeing yesterday with senators going to support Rand Paul is that at the grassroots level the issue has caught fire. And that is something I hope Democrats will soon realize.”