Rand's Stand energizes base
WASHINGTON — Call it Rand's Stand: A nearly 13-hour stall tactic on the Senate floor thrust a Tea Party hero back into the national spotlight — a real-life version of the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster of President Obama's pick for CIA director was the latest notable move by the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul. A freshman senator, Paul is a growing political force in his own right. The eye doctor challenged the Republican Party's establishment in his state to win his seat in 2010 and now commands attention as a defender of limited government.
Paul, a critic of Obama's aerial drone policy, started his long speaking feat just before noon Wednesday by demanding that the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring him the unmanned aircraft would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul said.
Republicans split bitterly on Thursday over the old-school filibuster of Obama's CIA nominee John Brennan amid claims that the administration could use drones to target Americans suspected of terrorism.
Just hours after Paul ended his nearly talkathon — and got an endorsement from Minority Leader and fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell — two senior Republicans on the Armed Services Committee dismissed Paul's claims as unfounded and ridiculous, and expressed support for Obama's controversial drone program as the nation wages war against terrorism.
John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also challenged members of their own party.
“To my Republican colleagues, I don't remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone,” Graham said in remarks on the Senate floor.
McCain scoffed at Paul's contention that America would have targeted actress Jane Fonda during her trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
“I must say that the use of Jane Fonda's name does evoke certain memories with me, and I must say that she is not my favorite American, but I also believe that, as odious as it was, Ms. Fonda acted within her constitutional rights,” said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 5½ years. “And to somehow say that someone who disagrees with American policy and even may demonstrate against it is somehow a member of an organization which makes that individual an enemy combatant is simply false. It is simply false.”
During the height of the long war, Fonda traveled to North Vietnam, visited with the enemy and was widely vilified.
Graham called Paul's demands “offensive” and said he had “cheapened” the debate on drones.
After his remarks, Graham said he had planned to vote against Brennan's nomination but now intends to support the nominee because the confirmation fight has become a referendum on the drone program.
Paul was pressing the administration for greater clarity on whether the Obama administration has the authority to use lethal force, such as a drone, against a suspected terrorist who is a U.S. citizen.
“Do you have the authority to kill Americans on American soil?” Paul summed up the question for reporters.
Hours after the filibuster, Republican leader McConnell said Paul deserved an answer.
“It simply doesn't have that right, and the administration should just answer the question,” McConnell said. “There is no reason we cannot get this question answered today, and we should get this question answered today. Frankly, it should have been answered a long time ago.”
Finally, Holder complied with Paul's request, sending him a brief note saying the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill a U.S. citizen on American soil if the citizen is not engaged in combat.
The Senate voted on Thursday afternoon to confirm John Brennan as CIA director, 63-34. Paul voted no.
Paul's action put a spotlight on the divides within the Republican Party. While the criticism came from one side, other party officials acknowledged that the senator was the first Republican to challenge Obama successfully, and they hoped that Paul had caused a rallying point for the GOP to make more stands against the president.
Paul's performance — marked on Twitter by the hashtag #StandWithRand — turned into a trending topic on the social media site and prompted a torrent of phone calls from Tea Party supporters urging senators to support him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee used the filibuster to raise about $75,000 for GOP candidates.
Paul first stepped onto the national stage in 2010 when he vanquished McConnell's chosen Kentucky candidate in a GOP primary. Since then, he's embraced the popularity he has in the Tea Party and has inherited his father's libertarian-leaning political network, built over two failed Ron Paul presidential runs. All that has stoked belief inside GOP circles that Paul may be positioning himself for a national campaign, possibly as early as 2016.
Paul, 50, has been difficult to pigeonhole in the Senate. He was one of four Republicans to support Obama's nomination of former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary, yet he used his Tea Party response to Obama's State of the Union address to blast what he called the president's belief in more debt and higher taxes. Tea Party activists say his latest move has energized their ranks and raised his profile.
“He is our liberty warrior,” said Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express.
Paul, who made do with water and candy bars during his filibuster, said he recognized he couldn't stop Brennan from being confirmed. He said the nomination fight was about raising questions over the limits of the federal government.
Lasting past midnight, the filibuster brought a dozen of Paul's colleagues to the floor. McConnell, himself running for re-election in Kentucky, congratulated him for his “tenacity and for his conviction.” Tea Party-backed lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas read Twitter messages from supporters.
Paul said he would have tried to break South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's filibuster record of more than 24 hours but recognized his physical limits. In an interview with radio host Glenn Beck, Paul joked that he considered using a catheter. Even Democrats offered admiration for his stamina.
“What I have learned from my experiences in talking filibusters is this: To succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “It's obvious Sen. Paul has both.”