Saturday, March 9, 2013

He Stood

"I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA.  I will speak until I can no longer speak."

With those words, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) revived an almost extinct Senate tradition of opposition:  an honest-to-goodness filibuster.  In recent times, Senate procedures had become such that all one needed to do was declare a filibuster and it was so noted.  It was more of a technical, procedural process.  If you declared a filibuster and the opposition couldn't muster the necessary votes to cut you off, the legislation was held up.  Senators were not required to actually stand and defend their opposition at length.  Rand Paul stood.

Although Sen. Paul opposed the confirmation of Mr. Brennan, his filibuster was less about direct opposition to his confirmation as CIA Director (Sen. Paul admitted that his filibuster was little more than a "blip" on the way to confirmation) and more about forcing on the Obama administration acknowledgment of a Constitutional limit on Executive authority.  Specifically, the limits on the potential use of armed drones on unarmed American citizens not actively engaged in combat or terrorist activity within the United States.

The impetus for the Senator's historic stemwinder was the response he got from Attorney General Eric Holder to a letter requesting clarification on the administration's criteria for the potential use of drones on American citizens domestically.  In his response, AG Holder avoided giving a direct answer, saying that while he "supposed" such an act "could be" considered "in an extreme circumstance", neither he nor the President "had any intentions" of doing so.  Saying you don't intend to do something is a far cry from declaring that you will not and that, furthermore, no one in your position is Constitutionally allowed to do so.  Or, as Sen. Paul so eloquently put it:

"The oath of office of the President says that he will, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He raises his hand, his right hand, puts his left hand on the bible, and he says, 'I will.' The President doesn't say, 'I intend to if it's convenient.' 'I intend to, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.'"

When directly asked his opinion on the administration's drone program during his confirmation hearings, Mr. Brennan asserted that there were essentially no limitations on the government's use of the drone strike program insofar as  geography was concerned.  No limitation on where such attacks to could be enacted.  When asked directly by the Senator from Oregon, " ...if there's no limitation to whom you can kill and where you can kill and there's no due process upon whom you will kill, does that mean you will do it in America?"  Mr. Brennan's answer was truly Orwellian:  "I plan to optimize secrecy and optimize transparency."

Huh?  It was comments like these, and stonewalling from the Executive branch, that drove Mr. Paul's actions.  In the end, after nearly 13 hours of beating the administration about the head and shoulders with Constitutional questions of legality and transparency, a letter was finally received by Mr. Paul from AG Holder that clearly stated, finally, that the President did not have the authority to use drones to assassinate American citizen non-combatants.  Here's the AG's one-paragraph response:

"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."

Wow.  Talk about petulant.   You can almost hear the whiney sneer in Holder's voice.  It wasn't an "additional question".  It was a restatement of the same question that had been asked repeatedly, without a clear answer, for over a month.

 Sen. Paul said that he is satisfied with the White House’s response.  “I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it,” he added, “but we did get the answer.”

So, Rand Paul got what he wanted.  However, he may have also given the rest of the country an unanticipated gift:  a renewed interest in the workings of government and in our Constitutionally guaranteed protections.  Sen. Paul's filibuster was the focus of social media.  Not just during the event, but for days ongoing.  The "Twitterverse" exploded, with the hashtag #StandWithRand trending #1, not just in the US, but worldwide.  It wasn't just a fad, people were actually paying attention to the topic.  When Sen. Johnson tried to insert arguments about taxes into the filibuster, there were calls from Twitter users to "give him the hook", but when Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin rose to debate Sen. Paul on policy points, the result was largely positive.  A good sign that Americans really do value substantive debate on issues, as opposed to hyperbolic rhetoric.

He also seems to have woken up fellow legislators (Senators and Congressmen) to the importance of standing up for the Constitutional protections of Americans.  Mr. Paul's actions also drew support from a wide, and ridiculously diverse, group.  He was endorsed by the Tea Party, of course, and by conservative groups in general.  He also garnered approval from groups usually associated with opposition to anything remotely Conservative:  Code Pink, the ACLU, liberal comedian Jon Stewart, and even extreme leftist activist and former "Green Jobs Czar" Van Jones all spoke out in support of what he was doing and saying.  Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU called Sen. Paul's filibuster "... a courageous and historic effort."

While Sen. Paul was supported in his effort from the start by the newly elected "Tea Party" supported freshmen Senators, some of the "old guard" (those not dining with the President at the time) did finally deign to join in, after it became clear the huge amount of positive response that was being generated.  Better late than never, I guess.

Curiously, given the howls from the left over alleged infringements on civil liberties whenever a Republican occupies the Oval Office, only a single Democrat Senator stood with Sen. Paul: Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.  The other Democrat Senators, to their shame, simply squirmed uncomfortably in their seats.  Don't misunderstand, Sens. Paul and Wyden do not share the same ideology.  However, the Honorable Mr. Wyden in this instance showed true statesmanship in being willing to stand on common ground with his political rival.

One thing happened during the filibuster that is quite rare.  In fact, I haven't found an instance of when it has ever happened.  During the course of Sen. Paul's oration, members of the House of Representatives began to arrive in the Senate chamber, standing in the back of the room to hear and support what Mr. Paul was doing.  The list included (forgive me if I leave anyone out):   Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.),  Thomas Massie (R-Ky),  Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Garland “Andy” Barr (Ky.), Trey Radel (Fla.), Michael Burgess (Tex.), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Raul R. Labrador (Idaho), Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Richard Hudson (N.C.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.).

Supporting Senators also included: Republican Sens.Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) , Jerry Moran (R-Kan.),  John Barrasso (Wyo.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), John Cornyn (Tex.), John Thune (S.D.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). And Sens. Cruz, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) used the opportunity to make their first speaking appearances on the Senate floor.

Along about 6:30p.m. something fantastic happened.  I'll let Sen. Paul' explain:  "Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been recovering from a stroke, came to the floor to give me something. I was not allowed to drink anything but water or eat anything but the candy left in our Senate desks. But he brought me an apple and a thermos full of tea — the same sustenance Jimmy Stewart brought to the Senate floor in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” That was a moment I will never forget."

Rand Paul stood, but he did not stand alone.

Senator Paul's performance was a true example of statesmanship and an inspiration for all of us, left & right, to stand on principle.  If your Senator or Representative was among those who stood in support of Rand Paul, support them.  Call, write, email, do whatever you can do to let them know you appreciate their standing in support of Rand Paul and, by extension, your rights as an American citizen.  If your Senator isn't on the list, ask them why not?  Ask them what was so controversial about standing up for Constitutional protections of our rights as citizens.

Sen. Paul says, "My filibuster was just the beginning".  Here's hoping it's just the beginning of the reclamation of the founding spirit of the United States of America, and a return to individual rights, liberty and truly representative governance.


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