Filibusters and drones have the ability to create some strange political bedfellows.
Rand Paul, the Republican senator and Tea Party favorite, gave a nearly 13 hour filibuster speech on Wednesday, highlighting his concerns about President Obama’s drone policy. And now, he's being touted as a hero even by some on the left. It's a pretty stark turn for a lawmaker who has criticized the Civil Rights Act, has spoken out against abortion, wants to basically eliminate the Department of Education, and opposes any government involvement in health care.
The filibuster was enacted by the Kentucky lawmaker to block the Senate confirmation of John Brennan’s nomination to CIA director. His criticism keyed in on the possible use of drones against targets in the United States. It began when Attorney General Eric Holder, earlier this week in a letter to Paul, would not rule out a drone strike against an American on U.S. territory. Critics argue that the legal ground for such extrajudicial killing via drones is tenuous, in addition to privacy concerns.
"It is possible I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States," wrote Holder.
In response, Paul held the filibuster, declaring “I will speak until I can no longer speak." He added, “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
The American Civil Liberties Union praised Paul’s efforts. In a statement to msnbc.com, Christopher Anders, the organization's senior legislative counsel said Paul took a "courageous and historic stand" by filibustering. He added, "All Americans, regardless of party, should join Sen. Paul in his demand that the scope of the president's claim of authority to kill people away from any battlefield, including American citizens."
Code Pink, a left-wing, anti-drone group tweeted “Let’s go, left and right, to @SenRandPaul office…Thank him for #filibuster #standwithrand,” alongside a picture with three supporters thanking the Tea Partier.
Even liberal comedian Jon Stewart gave props to Paul, saying on The Daily Show that “I can’t say that I agree with Rand Paul about everything, but as issues go, drone oversight is certainly one worth kicking up a fuss for.”
Many Democrats were absent for Paul’s filibuster, but not Sen. Ron Wyden, a libertarian-minded Democrat from Oregon. “It’s my view that the senator from Kentucky has made a number of important points,” he said, but added he would support Brennan’s nomination.
Paul’s epic filibuster still fell short of the record set by Sen. Strom Thurmond, who railed against the Civil Rights Act in 1957 for more than 24 hours.
His speech brought the issue of filibuster reform back into the limelight. In December, the Democrats railed against the abuse of a one-time important tool to give the minority party a voice. Critics argued that senators--primarily the GOP--are using it as tactic to avoid progress on bills. The senate earlier this year agreed to a watered down version, but it still takes 60 votes from the 100 senators to stop a filibuster.
Several GOPers ripped Paul’s filibuster on Thursday.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said “I don’t think what happened yesterday was helpful to the American people…What we saw yesterday is going to give ammunition to those who say the rules of the Senate are being abused.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also criticized Paul, showing a chart showing the number of Americans killed in the United States by al-Qaeda (2,958) and by drones (zero).