This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took a principled stand, launched into an old fashioned Senate filibuster, and forced the Obama Administration to stop equivocating on the question of armed drone strikes against Americans on American soil.
The issue of using armed drones to take out terrorists in remote strikes has been contentious since the start. At first, these drone strikes were limited to positively identified terrorists who were successfully eluding capture by hiding in foreign countries outside the Iraq or Afghanistan war zones and often under the protection of those foreign governments. The controversy at hand was the risk of angering these foreign governments who were often providing tacit assistance to the US in the War on Terror, but had to keep a low profile due to their large Muslim populations. These drone strikes threatened what little cooperation we did receive, and risked alienating that country as an ally in the broader fight against terrorism.
This policy was expanded by the Obama Administration to include enemy combatants inside the war zones as it proved to be much less risky to carry out than putting soldiers’ lives in danger on a kill or capture mission. This led to the controversy of whether the Obama Administration was targeting terrorists for killing and foregoing any chance to obtain valuable intelligence with their capture. President Obama was strongly opposed to the practice of waterboarding terrorist detainees to obtain intelligence on al-Qaeda operations and personnel even though this practice had revealed Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan when applied to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It was argued that President Obama would rather take these terrorists out than risk their capture and place him in the untenable position of having to extract information from then, but without the use of the very effective waterboarding technique he so deplored. In other words, President Obama preferred to kill them rather than waterboard them.
The targeting of American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by a drone strike in Yemen further expanded the controversy surrounding this tactic. Al-Awlaki was an American citizen who had supported terrorists and had direct contact with the perpetrators of several terrorist incidents including the Fort Hood massacre carried out by Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan and the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. His killing in Yemen pitted the desire to see an obvious terrorist sponsor and enabler put to death with the troubling realization that the rights of an American citizen were not being given due process according to the Constitution. It was argued that al-Awlaki’s death was a special circumstance since there was overwhelming evidence of his complicity with terrorism and the fact that he was in Yemen assisting in the preparation of future terrorist attacks in America.
Along with the expanded policy of lethal drone strikes against enemy combatants comes news that law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels are pushing to operate drones inside the US for surveillance against Americans despite privacy concerns and the constitutionality of their use against Americans. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, troubled by this expansion of drone use against Americans, pointedly asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a Senate subcommittee hearing last week if the Obama Administration believed it was legal to use drone strikes against Americans in America. Holder equivocated in his answer as he attempted to dismiss Cruz’s concerns while reserving the Obama Administration’s right to use drone strikes against Americans if the need ever arose.
It was this exchange which prompted Senator Paul to stage his filibuster until the Administration, embarrassed by the attention Paul was receiving, finally relented and provided a clear answer of no, that it was not legal for the president to launch drone strikes against Americans in America. It should be a cause of great concern to Americans that the Obama Administration was unwilling to immediately rule out the use of lethal drone strikes against Americans on American soil. The Constitution is explicit in its requirement of due process for Americans and takes pains to spell these out in several places. The fact that Attorney General Holder, our nation’s top legal enforcement authority, would attempt to equivocate when presented so obvious a question speaks volumes about the distrust the Obama Administration has for the American people.
Senator Rand Paul felt passionately enough about this issue to launch an old fashioned Senate filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan, the man responsible for directing the Obama Administration’s targeted drone strike program, to be the next CIA director. As the Senate has become more streamlined, the filibuster has morphed into nothing more than a procedural vote as lazy senators preferred that over the hard work necessary to actually carry out one. Dropping the requirement for an actual filibuster in favor of the procedural vote was supposed to speed up Senate business, but they’ve not managed to pass a budget in over four years. Senator Paul pulled the filibuster out of the closet, dusted it off, and provided this generation of Americans experience with something they had only read about in history books.
Support for Senator Paul came from the conservative group of senators elected with TEA Party support including Senator Cruz, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Fellow Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell stopped by to offer his support during the night, and additional support came from an unlikely source in liberal Oregon Senator Ron Wyden who has worked with Paul on the issue of limiting drone use against Americans due to privacy concerns. Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus even sent out a clarion call for Republican Senators to rush to the Senate floor and support Senator Paul’s historic filibuster. Many ultra liberal groups such as Code Pink also supported Senator Paul’s filibuster.
In stark contrast, Senator Paul’s most vociferous critics included two fellow Republicans in Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham who blasted Paul for daring to even ask the question of the Obama Administration. Their criticism highlights the divide between the Senate old guard and the TEA Party upstarts over control of the Senate. Senators McCain and Graham are definitely on the wrong side of this issue as is immediately obvious to all involved. They prefer the GOP establishment position of cozying up to the radical secular progressives in the Obama Administration instead of supporting members of their own party.
It is very apparent that the GOP establishment has little use for the TEA Party conservatives as they continue to push back against the establishment go-along-to-get-along mentality, subservience to Senate tradition, and ideological softening to expand the party. Karl Rove’s announcement that he is raising funds through his PAC American Crossroads to support electable Republicans is a thinly veiled admission that the GOP establishment is seeking to purge the Republican Party of the conservatism that has been the basis of its brand for decades.
TEA Party conservatives are no longer welcome in the GOP. Our candidates will face Rove’s big money GOP establishment attack machine in the primaries before facing Organizing for America’s big money progressive attack machine in the general election. It’s time for TEA Party conservatives to take the hint and leave where we’re not wanted. It’s time for us to form our own party and offer Americans a genuine conservative choice in contrast to the Big Government Party choice of continued unsustainable government expansion. It’s time for the TEA Party to emulate Senator Paul and take a principled stand.