WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Thursday to confirm John Brennan as the next CIA director, ending a rare talking filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul after nearly 13 hours.
The 63-34 tally included 13 Republicans voting for Brennan and three Democrats voting against his confirmation. Brennan will head to Langley as the director of the intelligence agency, rounding out President Barack Obama’s recent high-profile national security nominations: Brennan, John Kerry as secretary of State and Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense.
The Senate cleared the nomination two hours after Sen. Paul, R-Ky., received a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder addressing on his questions about targeted killings of American citizens who are not enemy combatants on U.S. soil. Paul had spent almost 13 hours Wednesday on a talking filibuster, demanding answers from the Obama administration.
“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 in American soil?'” Holder wrote. “The answer to that question is no.”
Satisfied with the answer, Paul announced he would drop his opposition to Brennan’s nomination.
“I’m quite happy with the answer and I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it,” Paul said.
That “root canal” was manifested on the Senate floor Wednesday as Paul engaged in an “old school version” of the filibuster. For most of 12 hours and 54 minutes, Paul stood and talked. Some colleagues brought him food, but under Senate rules, he could not leave without ending the filibuster. He finally yielded the floor shortly before 1 a.m., saying he needed to use the bathroom.
“I didn’t drink very much water, and my feet were hurting most of the time,” Paul said Thursday.
As the filibuster went on, more and more senators came to the Senate floor to express their support for Paul. Eventually, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentucky Republican, came to the floor and encouraged other senators to support the filibuster. The following day, even Democrats commended Paul for his tenacity.
“You need strong convictions but also a strong bladder,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of the filibuster. “Senator Paul has both.”
But not everyone had kind words for Paul. Two of his Republican colleagues, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took the Senate floor Thursday morning to express their frustrations with Paul’s assertions, which they called “ridiculous” and “simply false.”
“If he wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “He needs to know what he’s talking about.”
McCain didn’t take kindly to one analogy in particular, when Paul used the actress Jane Fonda as an example who might be targeted as a non-enemy combatant.
“No one will ever forget Jane Fonda swiveling around in North Vietnamese armored guns,” Paul said Wednesday. “And it was despicable. It’s one thing if you want to try her for treason. But are you just going to drop a hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?”
When it came time to vote for cloture, Paul was among the first of the Republicans to vote to end the filibuster. But 16 Republicans voted against it, including McConnell. McConnell declined to comment on the filibuster or the Brennan vote on Thursday.
Paul, however, did not support Brennan in the final confirmation vote. He told conservative radio host Glenn Beck that getting Obama’s former national security adviser to follow the Constitution is like “pulling teeth.”
The three Democrats who voted against Brennan’s confirmation were Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who came on the Senate floor to support Paul’s filibuster, voted to confirm Brennan. Two Republican senators who joined Paul in his filibuster Wednesday night ultimately voted to confirm Brennan: Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.