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.”
What We're Following See More »
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified on Friday the makes and models of 12 million cars and motorcycles that have been recalled because of defective air bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata. The action includes 4.3 million Chryslers; 4.5 million Hondas; 1.6 million Toyotas; 731,000 Mazdas; 402,000 Nissans; 383,000 Subarus; 38,000 Mitsubishis; and 2,800 Ferraris. ... Analysts have said it could take years for all of the air bags to be replaced. Some have questioned whether Takata can survive the latest blow."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says 41 Secret Service agents have been disciplined in the fallout of an investigation over the agency's leak of personnel files. The leaker, who has resigned, released records showing that Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz—who was leading an investigation of Secret Service security lapses—had applied for a job at the agency years before. The punishments include reprimands and suspension without pay. "Like many others I was appalled by the episode reflected in the Inspector General’s report, which brought real discredit to the Secret Service," said Johnson.
Mitt Romney spoke in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about his decision to challenge Donald Trump. “Friends warned me, ‘Don’t speak out, stay out of the fray,’ because criticizing Mr. Trump will only help him by giving him someone else to attack. They were right. I became his next target, and the incoming attacks have been constant and brutal.” Still, "I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.”
"A bill to help Puerto Rico handle its $70 billion debt crisis is facing an uncertain future in the Senate. No Senate Democrats have endorsed a bill backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while some are actively fighting it. ... On the Republican side, senators say they’re hopeful to pass a bill but don’t know if they can support the current legislation — which is expected to win House approval given its backing from leaders in that chamber."
"Congress abandoned the Capitol Thursday for an almost two-week break without addressing how to combat Zika, even as public health officials issue dire warnings about the spread of the mosquito-driven virus with summer approaching. ... Instead of racing to fund efforts to thwart a potential health crisis, lawmakers are treating the Zika debate like regular legislation, approving Thursday the establishment of a House-Senate committee to hammer out differences in their competing bills."