I listened to Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster last week.
It was unlike any political theater I have ever witnessed in Washington before. It was compelling TV. I was riveted.
His focus was simple. Though the issue was technically the Senate confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director (a bad idea), it was more specifically on a much more fundamental matter: Does the Constitution still matter?
Neither Barack Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder has been willing to rule out the use of drones to kill non-combatant American citizens on U.S. soil without due process.
Here’s what Holder had to say to the question: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”
He added: “Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president on the scope of his authority.”
On March 7, following Paul’s filibuster, Holder delivered a letter to the senator stating, “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.”
Keep in mind, for months, Paul has been soliciting an answer to the question of whether the administration thinks it has the legal power to kill Americans on U.S. soil with drones. That was Holder’s apparently thoughtful response after all that time.
The nation owes Paul a debt of gratitude for pressing this issue so forcefully on the floor of the Senate.
In fact, the entire country should rally ’round Rand and demand Obama come out with a clear, unambiguous rejection of any executive branch authority to murder Americans from the skies as they do in Yemen or Afghanistan or foreign countries.
If ever there were an issue on which all Americans should be able to reach consensus, this would seem like one.
It’s a narrow question with broad implications.
An administration unwilling to concede cheerfully and without arm-twisting that it does not have the power to deny due process to American citizens on U.S. soil is capable of anything – including murder.
This should be disturbing to Republicans, Democrats, independents, everyone.
Obama has demonstrated near-total disregard for the Constitution for more than four years, so this is not just a hypothetical question.
It goes right to the heart of who we are as a nation under the rule of law.
Why have Obama and Holder been so unwilling to admit they don’t have the legal authority to commit cold-blooded murder?
It’s just that simple.
But Rand Paul was measured in his chiding – far more than I would be.
He was statesmanlike.
Rand Paul is quite simply a very different kind of leader than we have seen in Washington in some time.
There was no partisanship in him. He said he would have followed the same course and made the same arguments if George W. Bush were still in power and holding out the possibility of using drones to kill American citizens. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts his sincerity on that statement.
What I loved about this filibuster is that it represents an opportunity to get Americans talking about right and wrong, again. It has the potential to get them thinking about the Constitution, again. While narrowly focused on a specific issue, it raises the biggest questions of our time about whether we will have a federal government strictly limited in its power.
If I were a schoolteacher, I would challenge my students to watch these hours of filibuster as a lesson in American civics.
Thank you, Rand Paul, for your courage and your voice in challenging Obama’s imperial and imperious presidency.