A Filibuster Won’t Stop the Barron Nomination. But Rand Paul Is Ready to Talk.

The senator wants the public to see the so-called drone memos that the Obama administration has promised to reveal.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, leaves a Republican Senate caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
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Elahe Izad
May 21, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

Rand Paul wore com­fort­able shoes to work Wed­nes­day.

Un­like last year, when he moun­ted an im­promptu fili­buster on a nom­in­a­tion over drone policy. “We had no plan and I had the wrong shoes on, my feet were hurt­ing the whole day,” the sen­at­or said back then. On Wed­nes­day, Paul came to the Cap­it­ol pre­pared in case he does end up hold­ing the Sen­ate floor for hours to voice con­cerns re­lated to drones.

The Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an’s con­ten­tion this time: the nom­in­a­tion of Dav­id Bar­ron to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 1st Cir­cuit. Bar­ron, a former Justice De­part­ment of­fi­cial, helped write the leg­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the use of drones against Amer­ic­an ex­trem­ist An­war al-Aw­laki, who was killed in Ye­men in 2011.

But Paul hasn’t de­cided yet wheth­er he’s go­ing to stand on the Sen­ate floor for hours on end in or­der to delay Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion. And that’s be­cause he can’t ac­tu­ally stop the nom­in­a­tion this time around. Last year, Paul talked for 13 hours to delay Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship from mov­ing ahead with the nom­in­a­tion of John Bren­nan to lead the CIA, in­sist­ing that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion weigh in on wheth­er the U.S. can use a drone to kill an Amer­ic­an cit­izen on Amer­ic­an soil. Paul re­ceived this let­ter from At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er in re­sponse.

But this time around, the le­gis­lat­ive clock has already been set in mo­tion. After an af­ter­noon pro­ced­ur­al vote, Paul can talk for 30 hours if he’d like. But once that time ex­pires, the con­firm­a­tion vote will be held, no mat­ter what. It’d be noth­ing more than a talk-a-thon, a la Ted Cruz’s 21-hour anti-Obama­care rant.

Paul con­ceded to re­port­ers Tues­day that he “can’t do any­thing” to stop Bar­ron’s nom­in­a­tion.

“There’s no real great sort of aim to draw at­ten­tion to something that there is no real pos­sib­il­ity of delay­ing, so really this would re­quire cour­age on the part of some Demo­crats,” Paul said. “And I don’t think they’re eval­u­at­ing it as if this were a Bush nom­in­ee. I think they’re eval­u­at­ing it from a par­tis­an point of view.”

These days, the Sen­ate can con­firm ju­di­cial nom­in­ees with just a simple ma­jor­ity of 51 votes. Last year, 60 votes were re­quired.

Sen­at­ors have had more than a week to re­view in a se­cure room the memos Bar­ron penned. Some lib­er­als had also ex­pressed con­cern with the Bar­ron nom­in­a­tion and in­sisted that they should also be re­leased to the pub­lic, such as Sen. Mark Ud­all, D-Colo.

But on the eve of Wed­nes­day’s pro­ced­ur­al vote to move the Bar­ron nom­in­a­tion ahead through the Sen­ate, the ad­min­is­tra­tion signaled that it would re­lease those memos to the pub­lic.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id voiced con­fid­ence Tues­day that the Bar­ron nom­in­a­tion would get suf­fi­cient votes to pass. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to de­clas­si­fy the memos cer­tainly does help rally more lib­er­al sup­port. For in­stance, Ud­all said that de­vel­op­ment means he’ll now vote for Bar­ron.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sur­prise move isn’t enough for Paul, however. He wants the Bar­ron nom­in­a­tion delayed un­til the pub­lic ac­tu­ally sees the memos and has time to re­view them. And it’s un­clear when those doc­u­ments will be re­leased, since it’ll take time to al­low for re­dac­tion re­quests and a court to re­view such changes.

“I would say we had some vic­tory today. I think if I had not made a stink on this, I don’t think [they] would re­lease it and/or maybe some Demo­crats quietly agree­ing to vote for it if the pub­lic is to see it,” Paul said. “But really, pub­lic de­bate in or­der to stop something or in or­der to bet­ter elu­cid­ate an is­sue takes a while. So it’d be nice if we now had three weeks for the pub­lic to dis­cuss and de­bate these memos, and to really come to grips to what we’re agree­ing to, and we’re not go­ing to have that.”