John Brennan, the former counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama, was finally sworn in last week as the director of the CIA. But the path from nomination to confirmation wasn’t without strong opposition. Early in February, anti-drone protesters interrupted his Senate hearing and last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) broke a tacit agreement in the Senate to avoid filibusters — a parliamentary procedure where a member of the chamber deliberately talks for hours to delay voting — when he took to the floor for 13 hours to postpone the vote on Brennan’s nomination.
Paul objected to a letter from the Obama administration that said in extreme circumstances, the president has the right to kill an American citizen on American soil using drone technology. Brennan has been a top official at the CIA for decades and is widely considered the architect of the drone program. Paul’s outrage was justifiable: the president’s assertion opens up frightening possibilities for a future in which the government could murder American citizens without trial and use technology that is known to cause civilian casualties, even though its proponents pretend otherwise. Eventually, the Obama administration conceded and assured Paul that the president could not kill Americans in their own country using drones.
The type of filibuster Paul used is almost an anachronism — it evoked a time when senators would actually speak about why they were preventing a bill. The filibuster, which is not mentioned in the Constitution and was used sparingly until Sen. Huey Long began using it in the 1930s, is designed as a check on pure majority rule. However, it is too often used by the minority party, most notably the Republicans of the last three Congresses, to simply prevent action of any kind. Rule changes like the addition of the silent filibuster, which allows senators to prevent a vote without actually doing anything other than threatening to filibuster, have only made obstructive politics easier.
Although Paul’s filibuster was, arguably, used appropriately in this case, the filibuster is too often abused and discourages progress — something we cannot continue to endure in the most powerful democracy in the world.
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 11 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at email@example.com.
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