While Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and I don’t often agree, I’m with him on his concerns about the domestic use of lethal force against “terrorists” on U.S. soil. I’m also with him on doing a filibuster the right way.
First, the filibuster. I have long opposed the sanitized, bloodless, gumming-up-the-works maneuver that passes for filibuster today. More often than not, the modern filibuster is purely negative in its use – a reflexive and indiscriminate political club to bludgeon presidential initiatives and nominations. Such filibusters squelch debate and move policy disputes into a legislative limbo beyond the reach of the Senate majority and public scrutiny.
Rand Paul’s filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA did exactly the opposite. The senator’s filibuster invited debate and heightened public scrutiny. When Paul took the floor and spoke for 13 hours, he used the filibuster in the most productive way possible. Rather than the usual substance-free political petulance, Paul’s filibuster was principled and fulsome. He had a point to make and he made that point in a convincing and honorable way. Rather than being a “finger in the eye” to the White House, Paul’s filibuster emphasized that the public should be concerned – very concerned – with the administration’s policies and practices regarding drones, lethal force, and American citizens. He raised constitutional, legal, and policy issues that scream to be addressed and he did it in a way that celebrates, rather than subverts, the democratic process. Good for him.
I also share Rand Paul’s disquiet about the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. We can agree or disagree on whether the administration has conclusively answered critic’s concerns, but further public discussion about these Constitutional issues is essential. Does the DOJ see the domestic use of lethal force – drone strikes or otherwise – against U..S citizens (or others) on U.S. soil in the same light as the attacks in Yemen that killed US citizens Anwar Al-Alwaki and his 16-year old son? Does the president’s power as commander-in-chief, or under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, trump the Constitution and legal due process? The president has indisputable power to repel a direct attack or respond to an imminent danger facing the country, but fighting “terrorism” has blurred the lines between defensive and offensive actions and has lead to assertion of presidential powers far beyond what the Framers specified in 1787.
This is a dangerous trend.
Last week, I wrote about Congress’ unwillingness to shoulder its constitutional burden regarding the budget and national spending. I see a similar problem with Article I powers of war and military authority. My next post will address Congressional cowardice and the inflation of presidential war powers.