Get Ready for Rand Paul’s Next Drone Filibuster

He may talk a bunch, but he actually can’t block Obama’s judicial pick the way he could last year.

National Journal
Elahe Izadi
May 16, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

Rand Paul drew praise from both the Right and Left last year when he moun­ted a 13-hour, talk­ing fili­buster from the Sen­ate floor to block a nom­in­a­tion over ob­jec­tions re­lated to drone killings of Amer­ic­an cit­izens. And he might do it again this year.

The Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Ken­tucky plans to block the nom­in­a­tion of Dav­id Bar­ron to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the First Cir­cuit. Bar­ron, a former Justice De­part­ment of­fi­cial, was a main au­thor of a secret Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion “drone memo,” which re­portedly offered a leg­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the killing of Amer­ic­an ex­trem­ist An­war al-Aw­laki, who was liv­ing in Ye­men at the time. After mount­ing pres­sure from both lib­er­als and liber­tari­ans, the ad­min­is­tra­tion al­lowed sen­at­ors to read the memos, of which there are two doc­u­ments.

“I’ve read Dav­id Bar­ron’s memos con­cern­ing the leg­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion for killing an Amer­ic­an cit­izen over­seas without a tri­al or leg­al rep­res­ent­a­tion, and I am not sat­is­fied,” Paul said in a state­ment Thursday. There is “no val­id leg­al pre­ced­ent to jus­ti­fy the killing of an Amer­ic­an cit­izen not en­gaged in com­bat,” the sen­at­or ad­ded, say­ing he plans to fili­buster Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion.

Sen­at­ors look to block ac­tion on the Sen­ate floor all the time, but not through a talk­ing fili­buster. Asked wheth­er Paul’s plan to block Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion means an­oth­er mara­thon fili­buster, Paul’s press sec­ret­ary said he “will do everything in his power to op­pose the nom­in­a­tion of Dav­id Bar­ron, and thus a fili­buster is not out of the ques­tion.”

Thanks to C-SPAN and so­cial me­dia, talk­ing non­stop to thwart a bill — which was how law­makers fili­bustered bills in the old days — has the po­ten­tial to draw massive amounts of at­ten­tion. Take Demo­crat­ic le­gis­lat­or Wendy Dav­is’s fili­buster of an abor­tion bill in the Texas state House. Her ef­fort went vir­al and pro­pelled her to the na­tion­al stage.

Paul’s fili­buster last year spurred sur­pris­ing sup­port from both con­ser­vat­ives and lib­er­als. Back then, the sen­at­or was block­ing the con­firm­a­tion of John Bren­nan to lead the CIA, after the ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­fused to rule out the use of drone strikes on Amer­ic­an soil.

“I will speak un­til I can no longer speak,” Paul said on the Sen­ate floor last March. “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 tim­ing of the fili­buster, which spawned the hasht­ag #Stand­With­Rand, came shortly be­fore the con­ser­vat­ive con­fab at CPAC. There, it be­came clear that Paul’s polit­ic­al stock had ris­en con­sid­er­ably thanks to his speech.

But there’s a cru­cial dif­fer­ence between last year and the cur­rent case. Where­as Paul’s fili­buster did ef­fect­ively block Bren­nan’s nom­in­a­tion from mov­ing for­ward, this po­ten­tial speech will take place in a post-nuc­le­ar Sen­ate. The up­per cham­ber has since changed how it con­firms ju­di­cial nom­in­ees — last March, 60 votes were needed to con­firm a nom­in­ee; now, just 51 are re­quired. That means that Paul can talk all he wants, but it won’t mat­ter much if 51 Demo­crats back Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­ee.

Lib­er­als have also voiced con­cerns over Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion. Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all of Col­or­ado, for in­stance, has said he won’t back Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion un­til the memos are made pub­lic.

On Thursday, White House coun­sel met with the Demo­crat­ic caucus to dis­cuss the memos and Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion. A Sen­ate vote on Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion will come next week.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult is­sue. He’s a bril­liant judge, who on most is­sues, is in sync with the vast ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats. And the ques­tion is this memo,” Chuck Schu­mer, the Sen­ate’s No. 3 Demo­crat, said be­fore the meet­ing. “The people who have read the memos — I have not at this point — say when you read them, it’s far more ex­culp­at­ory of Bar­ron than the news re­ports might in­dic­ate.”

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