Ringside Seat: Drone On, Rand Paul

For years, most Americans have labored under the delusion that a "filibuster" is when a United States senator gets up in front of his or her colleagues and proceeds to talk, and talk, and talk some more, not stopping until the opposition crumbles or voices fail and knees grow weak. In truth, these days a filibuster actually consists of nothing more than the Senate Minority Leader conveying to the Senate Majority Leader his party's intent to stop a bill or a nominee, and the deed is done. That doesn't mean, however, that a senator can't do the endless talking thing if he so chooses. And yesterday, one senator did in fact so choose, as Rand Paul refused to give up the floor and allow the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director to proceed. What ensued was a 13-hour discourse about Paul's uneasiness with the American government's use of drones to carry out targeted killings, including the possibility that they might one day be used against Americans right here at home. And what do you know, he actually got some results.

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Paul, clarifying his previously muddled stance on the issue of whether it is constitutional for the President of the United States to use a drone to assassinate an American filling up his car at the Kenosha Gas 'n Sip or sunning himself on the beach at Coney Island. "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" the letter read. "The answer to that question is no."

That's certainly good to know. As White House spokesman Jay Carney correctly pointed out, for all the practical questions raised by the increasing use of drones, the technology is irrelevant to the legal principle here, namely that unless there's an actual combat situation, the president doesn't have the right to order the assassination of an American here at home, whether the method is a drone, a sniper, a poison-tipped umbrella, or dropping a bowling ball on the subject's head. But don't let that lull you into thinking that government at the federal, state, and local level won't be finding all kinds of interesting uses for drones in the near future. Some will be benign, others will be more unsettling, but chances are high we're going to be talking about this issue a lot in the next few years.


So They Say

“Today is about the millions of women—the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault—who are out there right now looking for a lifeline, looking for support. ... Today is about all the survivors, all the advocates who are standing on this stage. But it’s also about the millions more they represent—that you represent. It’s about our commitment as a country to address this problem—in every corner of America, every community, every town, every big city—as long as it takes. And we’ve made incredible progress since 1994. But we cannot let up—not when domestic violence still kills three women a day. Not when one in five women will be a victim of rape in their lifetime. Not when one in three women is abused by a partner."

President Barack Obama, at the signing ceremony for the Violence Against Women Act

Daily Meme: Filibuster Easter Eggs

  • Rand Paul's filibuster, spanning 76,470 words and exceeding everyone's attention spans, was one for the history books and the first talking filibuster in two years.
  • We're going to assume you don't have time to watch a TV event only minutes shorter than the entire run of House of Cards (and with way less sexual intrigue and undergraduate a cappella). So here's a handy rundown of the night's memorable moments.
  • In Hour Seven, Paul said, "Many people will remember Jane Fonda swiveling herself around in a North Vietnamese artilleries and thinking gleefully that she was just right at home with the North Vietnamese. Now, while I'm not a great fan of Jane Fonda, I'm really not so interested in putting her on a drone kill list either."
  • Of course, Hitler also came up.
  • As well as cafés. Twenty-seven times. Don't ask us.
  • Paul also accidentally revealed that yes, the Senate has a secret candy drawer.
  • The Man from Kentucky also previewed his adapted screenplay of Alice in Wonderland, which changes the Red Queen's catchphrase, "Off with her head!" to "Release the drones!"
  • A few other senators vied for the prize of Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama. 
  • Marco Rubio subbed in with a requisite quip on hydration and some inspiration from "modern-day poets" such as Wiz Khalifa.
  • Ted Cruz mixed the old and new, quoting Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech along with some riveting tweets. 
  • And, props to Paul that during the entire filibuster, he stuck to the topic at hand instead of reading from the phone book or reciting the Declaration of Independence, as past filibusterers have been wont to do.
  • His gabquester ended with the immortal line, “I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but I’ve discovered that there are some limits to filibustering and I’m going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here." 
  • This morning, Glenn Beck asked Paul the question on everyone's mind (LOL not): Why didn't he just use a catheter? "Well, see, the thing is is, I did think about it—I've put them in before, and I really decided against it."

What We're Writing

  • Patrick Caldwell reports on the disparity between liberal and conservative think tanks at the state level. Turns out progressives have some catching up to do.
  • Jeff Saginor explains why you need to care about CISPA, the Patriot Act of cybersecurity.

What We're Reading

  • Nate Silver waxes eloquent on his career thus far.
  • An essential column from Ta-Nehisi Coates in today's New York Times on the enduring of racism in America.
  • Noam Scheiber thinks Obama's charm offensive just might work. 
  • Mother Jones fact-checks the most popular pro-gun myths. 
  • The New York Times unpacks the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, which has uncomfortably close ties to the NRA.
  • Why did most Senate Democrats refrain from joining last night's filibuster fun? Turns out they were, uh, busy.
  • The secret to Strom Thurmond's more-than-day-long filibuster? Saunas
  • The stock market highs are all the rage in New York, but the city's damning record of high homelessness isn't getting the attention it deserves.
  • If you had any doubt that Latinos are an increasingly powerful part of the Democratic Party, these three fundraisers will change your mind.

Poll of the Day

Hillary Clinton would best Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan if she were to face them in a race for president, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University. "Clinton would start a 2016 presidential campaign with enormous advantages," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the polling institute at Quinnipiac. Brown also noted that Clinton polled very well two years before the 2008 primaries, which she ultimately lost to Barack Obama.