Rand Paul: I might block Brennan's nomination until he says whether a U.S. citizen can be targeted on U.S. soil

Here’s his official statement, the basics of which he reiterated to USA Today in an interview. It’s interesting that killing Americans on American soil is where Paul draws the line, as he could have drawn it more restrictively. E.g., no drone strikes beyond Afghanistan, period; no drone strikes on American citizens, period; etc. This is another case, I think, of Rand trying to find a path that’s kinda sorta acceptable both to mainstream conservatives and to his dad’s base. (To be sure, he sent Brennan a letter a few weeks ago raising numerous questions about civil liberties, but this particular question is apparently the litmus test for whether a hold will be placed.) Good enough?

Paul said he would do “whatever it takes” to delay Brennan’s confirmation until he directly answers whether American citizens legally can be killed by drone strikes within the United States.

The Kentucky Republican accused Brennan of obfuscating on the issue when it was raised at confirmation hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. Rand on Sunday said he wouldn’t vote for Brennan until the questions were answered, but he raised the stakes in an interview with “Capital Download,” a weekly video series on usatoday.com.

“He was asked a very specific question. . . ‘Can you kill an American with a drone in America?’ And he refused to answer the question,” Paul said. “I find that very, very worrisome (and) we’re going to do whatever it takes to get the answer. Can the government, does the government, the president himself, claim the power to unilaterally kill an American in America without a trial?”

Harry Reid’s said he won’t honor holds placed by Republicans on Hagel’s nomination. Maybe he’ll honor one placed on Brennan on civil-liberties grounds since, in theory, his base cares about that. But … his base really doesn’t care much about that. So why wouldn’t Reid ignore Paul too?

Here’s the white paper on drones, in case you didn’t read it last week. The memo states on page three that it’s addressing only the legality of strikes carried out against Al Qaeda operatives on foreign soil, which isn’t the same thing as saying that strikes can’t be carried out here. In theory, any terrorist who’s inside the United States could be feasibly captured by U.S. law enforcement, which means one of the three criteria for a drone strike couldn’t be met. But feasibility is defined vaguely in the memo as something “highly fact-specific and potentially time-sensitive.” If the cops found out that a plot was in motion and somehow a Predator could get to the scene and intercept the bad guys before they could, then hypothetically capture might be “infeasible” and a strike would be in order. But look. For obvious reasons, turning the drone guns on citizens here at home would be extremely politically dangerous for any president, even one like The One who can count on a media cushion. Americans are sufficiently creeped out at the thought of being tracked by the eye in the sky that state and local governments have started passing laws banning surveillance drones. Imagine what the reaction would be to news of someone being incinerated on the highway by a Hellfire because the feds were worried about him. If it happened, the circumstances of the impending attack would need to be so dire and urgent that the president could reasonably expect he’d commended for taking action rather than vilified. And if I’m wrong, if Americans would actually acclimate fairly quickly to drone strikes as a semi-routine feature of counterterrorism here in the good ol’ U.S.A., then our problem is much bigger than worrying about whether we can get a straight answer from John Brennan or not. Maybe that’s why he’s silent on this, in fact — he suspects that, if push came to shove, he and O would have more public support for an attack of this sort than Paul thinks.

One other note. This line from Paul’s tea-party SOTU rebuttal last night jumped out at me:

“We cannot and will not allow any president to act as if he were a king,” Paul said. “We will not tolerate secret lists of American citizens who can be killed without trial.”

Won’t we? New from CBS:


That’s a bit apples-to-oranges insofar as the question doesn’t mention “secret” lists, and there’s no way to know for sure how many tea partiers agree with O’s policy versus Republicans generally. But O’s targeting list has been secret until now and he’s still pulling nearly 60 percent support among Republicans on this. Unless support among non-tea-party GOPers is stratospheric, it’s safe to assume that at least a sizable minority of tea-party Republicans is in favor too. I think this is more a case of Paul grafting Paulworld concerns onto the broader tea-party agenda than something he’s reading in the wider movement. But I don’t know. We need to see more polling.