Washington Watch: 'Filiblizzard' gets attention

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Wednesday in Washington was supposed to bring the “snowquester” and up to 10 inches of precipitation, but the nation’s capital largely shut down for what ended up being less than an inch of accumulated snowfall.

What did remain active — and did not disappoint — was the “filiblizzard” in the U.S. Senate chamber, as countless eyes on television and social media focused on U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and his nearly 13-hour filibuster.

Paul’s prolonged showing of his bladder’s fortitude was the longest, old-school speaking filibuster in years and the ninth-longest in U.S. history.

The target of his ire? The nation’s unmanned drone program and the alleged lack of clarity the Obama administration provided in terms of using drones to potentially kill Americans on U.S. soil.

Paul, the son of former presidential contender and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is arguably the most popular combination of tea party, libertarian and conservative values in the Senate and, as such, he also is the most vocal black sheep within the U.S. Senate’s Republican establishment.

But the prolonged filibuster of a potential 2016 presidential contender brought Republicans of all sorts to cheer him on — even if the support was only partisan and not substantive in nature — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who supported another Republican candidate when Paul ran for the U.S. Senate.

But not all Republican senators were impressed, including U.S. Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, both of whom essentially called the filibuster a meaningless sideshow that just delayed the confirmation of new CIA Director John Brennan by 24 hours.

Graham called it “offensive” and said it “cheapens the debate” when Paul questioned whether a president thinks he has the authority to kill a noncombatant American citizen on U.S. soil in somewhere like a coffee shop.

“If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids,” McCain added.

That comment seemed to fire up “libertarian kids,” such as the nonprofit group, Young Americans for Liberty, which responded that young conservatives and libertarians can either “Stand with Rand” or “Die with McCain.”

Locally, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said McCain and Graham overlooked the context in which the filibuster resonated and drew attention. “The president has been almost irresponsible with his response to court orders and making people think he is the law unto himself,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy cited the federal moratorium on drilling after the 2010 BP oil leak, illegal recess appointments made by the president and the most recent “casualness” in explaining drone policies.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., didn’t seem particularly impressed with Paul though. “Rand Paul had his day, or had his night, and the Congress voted,” Landrieu said.

“I think most Americans, while they want to make sure there are safeguards in place for innocents that would be hit, people want all force used against potential terrorists,” Landrieu said. “And anything that can minimize the (risk to the) life of our soldiers and maximize the death of our enemies would be a good thing.”

And, as it turns out, Obama and Paul may not differ much on domestic drone policies after all.

Both Paul and Obama want to leave the door open a crack to use any and all means of force when there is the imminent threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Neither of them wants to bomb innocent Americans.

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was testifying Wednesday before a U.S. Senate committee, he said that using drones to kill Americans domestically without an imminent threat wouldn’t be an “appropriate” use of such force.

When pressed, he added, “I thought I was saying ‘no.’ All right, no.”

The day after the filibuster, Paul received a very terse letter from Holder that read, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

Paul quickly said he was “quite happy” with the response and then Brennan was easily confirmed.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.