By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. Rand Paul engaged in a cheap political
stunt when he delivered a 13-hour floor speech suggesting President
Obama might use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil, two of Paul's
Republican colleagues said Thursday.
Paul, from Kentucky, made his
comments as part of a filibuster designed to stall a confirmation vote
on Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. Paul voiced concerns
that the nation's policy of using armed, unmanned aircraft to kill
foreign terrorists abroad could be used to target Americans at home.
filibuster drew late-night accolades Wednesday from conservatives who
backed his demand that Obama directly deny he would use drones that way.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of
Arizona teamed up the following morning to denounce Paul's allegations
and defend Obama's policies.
"This president is not going to use a
drone against a non-combatant sitting in a cafe anywhere in the United
States, nor will future presidents," said Graham, a military lawyer in
the Air Force Reserve. "Because if they do, they will have committed an
act of murder."
Graham called Paul's demands "offensive" and said he had "cheapened" the debate on drones.
McCain said Paul's concerns were "totally unfounded."
somehow allege or infer that the president of the United States is
going to kill somebody ... who disagrees with the policies is a stretch
of imagination which is, frankly, ridiculous," McCain said.
moved quickly over the course of the day: Attorney General Eric Holder
wrote a two-sentence letter to Paul saying Obama does not have authority
to use a drone to kill an American not engaged in combat against the
United States. Paul agreed to stop stalling Brennan's confirmation vote.
Graham decided to switch his position on Brennan and vote to confirm
Brennan, who oversaw the drone program as Obama's counterterrorism adviser, was confirmed 63-34.
Graham-McCain colloquy exposed a rift within the Republican caucus. On
one side are party members who fear the administration will misuse its
power in fighting the war on terror. On the other are those who support
the White House's secretive use of drones in the war.
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. "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
Among those who joined Paul during his filibuster were Sen.
Ted Cruz of Texas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry
Moran of Kansas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Cruz asked during the
filibuster whether there was any precedent "for the proposition that
this administration seems willing to embrace, or at least unwilling to
renounce explicitly and emphatically, that the Constitution somehow
permits, or at least does not foreclose on, the U.S. government killing a
U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who is not flying a plane into a building,
who is not robbing a bank, who is not pointing a bazooka at the
Pentagon, but who is simply sitting quietly at a cafe, peaceably
Since the 9/11 attacks, American presidents
have had the power to use military force against al-Qaeda terrorists and
their affiliates - and to treat as enemy combatants Americans who align
Graham said Obama, whose administration has made
extensive use of drones in Afghanistan and Yemen, has "the good judgment
to understand we're at war."
"To my party, I'm a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we're at war," Graham said.