Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 4:30 p.m.
It’s a classic tactic you don’t see every day: A senator actually filibustering on the floor.
With the aid of some candy, a few fellow senators, and limited amounts of water, Sen. Rand Paul managed to hold up Senate business all day and into the night, protesting against a confirmation vote for John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s appointee to head up the Central Intelligence Agency.
Paul’s main complaint concerns Brennan’s support for the U.S. drone program, and the president’s and Brennan’s refusal, thus far, to say unequivocally that they would not kill Americans on U.S. soil in the name of fighting terrorism.
The administration has not killed Americans on U.S. soil — but has killed American citizens via drone strikes abroad, most notably Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen in Yemen with alleged ties to al-Qaida. But administration officials maintain the president may have the legal authority to target Americans in the U.S. in extremely exceptional circumstances.
The possibility enraged Paul.
“It’s not really about who gets nominated to head the CIA … it’s about constitutional principles that really, we shouldn’t give up on,” Paul said. “If we’re going to kill Americans in America, what kind of standard will there be?”
Brennan faced tough questioning about the government’s use of drones for targeted killings in hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But ultimately, the committee approved his nomination 12 to 3 Wednesday morning, sending it to the Senate floor for a vote.
But before the Senate can vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to file a motion setting up the vote. He tried a few times Wednesday, ultimately offering Paul a deal — but Paul refused, opting to continue his filibuster.
He told Reid he would stop his filibuster as soon as Brennan or Obama wrote on paper that they had no intention of using drones to target Americans on U.S. soil.
“You would think they would want to reassure the public … that they won’t kill Americans,” Paul said. “It still boggles the mind that he won’t explicitly say that he will not do this.”
Reid eventually gave up, telling senators he would try to set up the vote again Thursday.
Paul got some relief from senators throughout the day, who engaged him in colloquies in order to give Paul breaks to regain his voice and eat a little candy — which is not really allowed on the Senate floor — so that he could keep going.
It was not clear, by Wednesday evening, how long Paul intended to continue his filibuster.