WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday after two Republican senators blasted Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster, which temporarily held up the vote on President Barack Obama’s choice to head the spy agency.
Senators confirmed Brennan on a 63-34 vote. Thirteen Republicans – including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida – voted for Brennan. Two Democrats – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon – joined Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, in opposing him.
Before the vote, Graham and McCain lambasted Paul, a Kentucky Republican, for launching a filibuster on the nomination over the question of whether the president could employ drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
“I watched some of that, quote, debate, unquote, yesterday,” said McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war. “I saw colleagues who know better come to the floor and voice some of the same concern, which is totally unfounded.”
Attorney General Eric Holder tried to put an end to the drone question Thursday when he sent Paul a one-paragraph letter that firmly stated, “The answer to that question is no.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Obama “has not and would not use drone strikes against Americans on American soil.”
“The president swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and he is bound by the law,” Carney added. “Whether the lethal force in question is a drone strike or a gunshot, the law and the Constitution apply in the same way.”
That appeared to satisfy Paul, who seemed unfazed about complaints over his filibuster.
“We got an explicit answer,” he said. “I’m pleased that we did it and, to me, the battle was worthwhile.”
Paul insisted that his stall tactic wasn’t about Brennan, though he voted against him, but about protecting Americans who could be “killed in a cafe in San Francisco or a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” by drones controlled by the federal government.
That proved too much for McCain and Graham. Quoting heavily from a Thursday editorial from The Wall Street Journal that panned Paul’s performance, McCain scolded Paul and other senators who helped him filibuster for doing a disservice to Americans “by making them think that somehow they’re in danger from their government.”
Graham chimed in after McCain and questioned why a number of Republican colleagues – Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who were among those who aided Paul’s rhetorical marathon – were raising the hypothetical issue of drone attacks on Americans now.
“To my Republican colleagues, I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President (George W.) Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone,” Graham said. “They had a drone program back then. All of a sudden this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up. What are we up to here?”
Graham said that Obama has been a “very failed president” who has overreached his power and intruded upon congressional authority through executive orders. But he praised his administration’s use of drones to combat terrorism overseas.
“I congratulate him for having the good judgment to understand we’re at war,” Graham said. “And to my party, I’m a bit (disappointed) that you no longer apparently think we’re at war. Not Senator Paul. He’s a man to himself. He has a view that I don’t think is a Republican view. I think it’s a legitimately held libertarian view.”
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and a fellow Kentuckian, defended Paul’s filibuster to a point, calling it “extended, heartfelt and important.”
But he added a disclaimer, saying the filibuster was not a criticism of the nation’s intelligence activities.
McConnell said Paul’s question about drone attacks on Americans on U.S. soil “isn’t an intelligence-related question, but a straightforward legal question.”