Thursday, March 07, 2013

On Rand Paul, Old-Timey Filibusters, John Brennan and "Libertarian Porn"

Mr. Paul goes to Washington
Someone on my twitter feed described Rand Paul's epic 13 hour filibuster as "libertarian porn".  Not sure if I would go that far, but given we are talking about a CSPAN feed of a man talking at a podium for 13 hours, it was far more engrossing and entertaining than it had any right to be.  I watched much of it live. Really. I actually did. I reluctantly tore myself away at the nine hour mark to keep an evening engagement, and was sorely disappointed to learn it was over when I returned.

Rand Paul was ostensibly using the filibuster to block a vote on John Brennan's nomination to run the CIA, but he made it clear the nomination confirmation was not his primary reason for the filibuster. Rather it was administration evasion on a simple question - Does the President think he legally has unilateral authority to launch a drone strike on an American citizen in America? During the filibuster Rand Paul referenced several articles and read them into record. They encapsulate the issue that prompted the filibuster better than I can:

Conor Friedersdorf: Killing Americans on U.S. Soil: Eric Holder's Evasive, Manipulative Letter
"Any thinking person can see that Holder's letter is non-responsive, evasive, and deliberately manipulative in its sly reassurances, right down to the rhetorically powerful but substantively nonsensical invocation of 9/11. (Being more subtle about it than Rudy Giuliani doesn't make it right.) To credulously accept this sort of response, on an issue as important as this one, is behavior unfit for any citizen of a free country, where safeguarding the rule of law is a civic responsibility.    Rand Paul deserves tremendous credit for eliciting this response. In its wake, he needs help from his colleagues and his countrymen. The time to discuss the appropriate scope of the president's authority is now, not in the aftermath of a catastrophic attack on the nation, as Holder suggests. The fact that he disagrees speaks volumes about Team Obama's reckless shortsightedness."
Kevin Gosztola: Attorney General Eric Holder: US Government Has Authority to Target & Kill US Citizens on US Soil
"Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who sent three letters to CIA director nominee John Brennan requesting an answer on “whether the president has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil,” finally received an answer from Attorney General Eric Holder. The answer indicates the administration of President Barack Obama does, in fact, believe it has the power to assassinate US citizens on US soil with lethal force.... There may never be a targeted killing of a US citizen on US soil and the question of whether a US citizen could be targeted and killed on US soil may remain a hypothetical question for some time, but the fact that the Obama administration has told a US senator there is a circumstance where the government could target and kill someone, who is a citizen, on US soil without charge or trial is a stark example of the imperial presidency. It is an example of how there is, for the most part, no power to violate civil liberties or human rights the president won’t claim in order to respond to “threats” however it chooses."
As interesting as the filibuster itself, was the reaction from the punditocracy. Rand Paul received positive commentary on the filibuster from across the political spectrum. The most withering criticism came from his fellow Republicans.

Ezra Klein - A great day for the filibuster, and for filibuster reform
"Wednesday’s filibuster is actually an old-school talkathon — exactly the kind of filibuster Merkley wanted to encourage. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went down to the floor of the Senate and used his prerogatives as a senator to mount a sustained, public argument against John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA. Now Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is picking up the argument. This is the highest purpose of the filibuster: Allowing a passionate minority to slow down the Senate and make their case to both their colleagues and the American people. If more filibusters went like this, there’d be no reason to demand reform. And if there is reform, it needs to hold open the possibility for filibusters like this."
Steve Benen - Opportunistically Standing with Rand
"Regardless, yesterday was quite a spectacle and brought legitimate questions about the scope of executive power to the fore -- and the floor -- in a way Americans haven't seen in quite a while... Filibusters are supposed to be difficult, which made yesterday's display a refreshing change of pace. It was not at all uncommon for even Paul critics to watch his endurance test and say, "Good for him." ... For the record, I don't question the senator's sincerity in the slightest, and I believe Paul would be raising the same questions and concerns if a member of his own party were in the White House. The same is true of Democrats like Ron Wyden of Oregon, who talked to Rachel last night, and probably even other Republicans like Mike Lee of Utah."
Nick Gillespie -  3 Takeaways from Rand Paul's #StandwithRand Filibuster About Drone Strikes
"The filibuster succeeded precisely because it wasn't a cheap partisan ploy but because the substance under discussion - why won't the president of the United States, his attorney general, and his nominee to head the CIA explain their views on limits to their power? - transcends anything so banal or ephemeral as party affiliation or ideological score-settling... The chills started early in the filibuster as Paul said things along the lines of, "If you're gonna kill people in America [as terrorists], you need rules and we need to know your rules," and "To be bombed in your sleep - there's nothing American, nothing constitutional, about that" (these quotes are paraphrases). Those are not the words of a career politician trying to gain an advantage during the next round of horse-trading over a pork-barrel project. They are the words of a patriot who puts his country first and they inspire accordingly."
Laura Ingraham -  Rand's stand: principle and persuasion gives GOP reason for hope
"As a gaggle of GOP senators were returning from a cozy dinner with President Obama Wednesday night, the junior senator from Kentucky was in the midst of a marathon filibuster giving CSPAN2 what must have been its best ratings ever. I couldn't turn it off... The Attorney General's failure to categorically rule out such Executive kill lists is unconscionable. It is the duty of the legislative branch to check and challenge such blatant and dangerous over reach by any president, regardless of party....  Rand Paul didn't eat for much of the day himself, but with his filibuster he fed an electorate hungry to hear from a politician of principle. For almost 13 hours, Paul put the Constitution in the front seat, and his own convenience and comfort in the way back. Let the record reflect the names of those who stood with him in the early hours of his effort--Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio."
Taylor Marsh -  Rand Paul Makes Democrats Look Feckless on Civil Liberties
"DEMOCRATS should be ashamed today. While Senator Rand Paul led a filibuster on the importance of civil liberties, fan politics and propping up their people in Obama administration gagged them into irrelevance on the issue...  It was a very good day for Senator Rand Paul. He helped Republicans find some meaning on an issue that matters... By comparison, the Democratic party looked petty, small, and hyper-partisan. That they yielded the floor on civil liberties should embarrass the entire congressional delegation, but it won’t. Fan politics always wins out to principle today, which it does on the Republican side as well most of the time. But at least there is one honest man in the Senate, even if I rarely agree with him. Senator Rand Paul is a man to watch." 
Doug Mataconis:  Rand Paul Filibustering Brennan Nomination
"Paul says that he will continue this filibuster until he gets an answer from the Obama Administration regarding the use of drone strikes on American soil that is far less ambiguous than the one that Attorney General Holder issued late yesterday. He’s spent a good deal of his time pointing out the hypocrisy of the left on this issue, arguing quite convincingly that their silence over drone strikes under President Obama is starkly different from their justified criticism of the Bush Administration’s extraordinary tactics in the War On Terror. He’s also raised legitimate concerns about the use of military force on American soil, something that ought to be illegal under the  Posse Comitatus Act. Given that fact, it would seem as though the answer to Paul’s original question to Holder is crystal clear, which just makes it even more strange that the Administration has chosen to be so ambiguous about what ought to be an easy question....Paul’s filibuster can’t last forever, of course, and Brennan is likely to get confirmed at some point. However, the Senator is raising important questions that we deserve answers to from the Administration. For that, at least, he deserves some thanks."
This morning Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to the floor to attack Rand Paul and his filibuster.  I'd like to believe they represent the last gasp of the discredited old guard neocon faction in the Republican party.  OTOH, there is no reason the neocons should still be gasping at all, yet there they are.  I'll conclude with the hope I tweeted during the filibuster.

As I finished this post the debate on the Brenner nomination was winding down. Rand Paul took to the floor to confirm he finally received the unambiguous response from Attorney General Holder to the question that prompted the filibuster:
"White House Press Secretary Jay Carney quoted from the letter that Holder sent to Paul today. “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on an American soil?” Holder wrote, per Carney. “The answer is no.” Paul said that was good enough for him. “I’m quite happy with the answer,” he said during a CNN interview. “I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it, but we did get the answer.”
The Senate voted to confirm John Brennan as Director of the CIA 63-34. Rand Paul voted against.

Well done Senator Paul. You got the answer you were looking for and our country got the debate we needed.

UPDATE: 08-Mar-13

Rand Paul responds to John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Newt’s got his back (whether he wants it or not).

Like father, like son.

Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice weighs in on why the filibuster resonated across partisan lines.

And if you missed any of the 13 hours, the full transcript is linked here.

Cross-posted at Donklephant and Centrist Rising

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