WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The Senate voted, 63-34, to approve President Obama's
nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA Thursday afternoon, ending a
week of debate that featured one of the longest filibusters in Senate
Brennan, Obama's counter-terrorism adviser and a 25-year
CIA veteran, takes over an agency supervising a series of controversial
drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and
around the world.
Those airstrikes, which have exacted a toll on
al-Qaeda and the Taliban, were the subject of the 13-hour filibuster
Wednesday by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who questioned the constitutionality
of drone strikes without legal due process.
confirmation immediately followed an 81-16 vote to end debate on the
nomination, which had been delayed by Paul's filibuster and other
requests for more documents about the airstrikes from the White House
and Justice Department.
On Thursday morning, Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the Brennan votes were scheduled for
Saturday unless lawmakers agreed to vote earlier. The final votes were
moved up to Thursday afternoon after Attorney General Eric Holder wrote
Paul to tell him that Obama would not authorize drone strikes in the
United States without court approval.
White House spokesman Jay
Carney said Holder's letter to Paul answered the senator's question
about whether drones could be used against U.S. citizens on American
soil. Carney, quoting from the letter, said: "Does the president have
the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged
in combat on American soil? The answer is no."
Carney said White House officials have also been in touch with Paul's office.
debate was ended, two of the Senate's Republican leaders on national
security policy assailed Paul and his filibuster allies, calling their
rhetoric alarmist and politically motivated.
Sen. John McCain of
Arizona, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, said Paul and other
Republicans who participated in the filibuster did a disservice by
making Americans "think that somehow they're in danger from their
government. They're not."
"Senator Paul has a lot of passion,"
said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "That's a great thing. This is an
important issue. ... But 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, do you?"
Paul's 13-hour filibuster drew
a cadre of Republican senators and one Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon,
to speak about the constitutionality of allowing lethal drone strikes on
U.S. citizens at home and abroad with legal due process. Paul and
Republican fundraisers tried to raise money off the publicity generated
by the filibuster.
Despite the excitement generated in some conservative circles by Paul, McCain and Graham called it a cynical maneuver.
saw colleagues who know better come to the floor and voice some of this
same concern, which is totally unfounded," McCain said. "I must say 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.
"To somehow allege or infer that the president of the United
States is going to kill somebody like Jane Fonda or somebody who
disagrees with the policies is a stretch of imagine which is, frankly,
ridiculous," McCain said.
McCain, a former Navy pilot, was a
prisoner of war in North Vietnam in 1972 when Fonda, an Academy
Award-winning actress, appeared in Hanoi and criticized U.S. military
policies in Vietnam.
Paul, who started speaking about 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, ended his filibuster shortly after midnight Thursday.
MORE: Paul filibuster among Senate's longest
Paul ended his filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also
a Kentucky Republican, said he would continue to oppose Brennan's
nomination and attempts to end debate on it. McConnell voted against
Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt.,
announced at a gun hearing Wednesday that the committee was planning a
March 20 hearing to examine the domestic use of drones.
critic of Obama's unmanned drone policy, started his filibuster by
demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a
statement assuring that unmanned aircraft would not be used in the
United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens.
said his focus was on constitutional issues. "We really just want
(Obama) to say he won't" attack non-combatants on U.S. soil.
his filibuster, which repeatedly mentioned the chaos of post-World War I
Germany and the rise of Adolf Hitler, Paul said earlier Justice
Department letters raised the possibility that the president could
target citizens who merely disagreed with him.
"You can't be judge, jury and executioner all in one," Paul said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 Tuesday to approve Brennan's nomination.
Paul's filibuster gathered favorable attention throughout the day and
into the night Wednesday, not all conservatives were impressed. The
conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal said: "The
country needs more Senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul
wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political
stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college
dorms. He needs to know what he's talking about."
Brennan has been
closely linked to the drone program. The administration has used the
unmanned aircraft to regularly target suspected terrorists in the Middle
East and Africa.
In 2011, U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was
killed by a drone strike in Yemen, raising questions about the use of
the armed drones on American citizens.