WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans took the floor on Wednesday, launching an historic filibuster in an attempt to extract an answer from the White House to a simple question: Does the administration believe it has the legal authority to kill an American citizen on American soil with a drone strike?
It’s a question that seems fairly nonpartisan on its face, but a second one occurred to those watching the C-SPAN broadcast late into the morning: Where are all the Democrats?
Republicans, from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to filibuster-leader Rand Paul (Ky.), spoke for more than 12 hours. But only one Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, spoke in support of Paul during that time. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) tweeted support, but otherwise progressives who might have assumed to have been supportive were absent, leaving members of the GOP as the sole defenders of civil liberties. The White House was equally silent.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) even joked that Paul’s filibuster was “background noise.”
As the filibuster crept toward its 13th hour, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) joined to ask Paul whether the U.S. government had the authority to take out the fourth plane on 9/11 before it crashed into the Capitol.
“I don’t think this is such a clear and easy situation,” Durbin said.
Paul called it a “red herring.”
“We all agree that you can repel an imminent attack,” Paul said. “None of us disagree with that. We are talking about a targeted drone program” against citizens who are “not actively engaged in combat. … I don’t think that standard can be used in the United States.”
Durbin said he respected Paul’s response. “I stand with the senator,” Durbin said. “I think it is a legitimate question.”
Wyden has been the most outspoken Democratic critic of President Barack Obama’s drone program and the secrecy that surrounds it. He was the first Democrat to join the filibuster, taking the Senate floor just before 4 p.m. on Wednesday. He expressed support for Brennan’s nomination, but said that he welcomed the opportunity to discuss key questions surrounding Obama’s drone policy.
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