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Brian Doherty: Paul used a 13 hour filibuster to denounce the Obama Admin. violation of constitutional rights by killing US citizens abroad and potentially at home with drone strikes

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

As we record this interview, John Brennan appointment to the CIA is being filibustered by Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, son of the libertarian leader and icon Ron Paul. Here’s a little clip of what he has said during the filibuster.


RAND PAUL, U.S. SENATOR (R-KY): No one is questioning whether the U.S. can repel an attack. No one is questioning whether your local police can repel an attack. Anybody involved in lethal force, the legal doctrine in our country (and has been historically) has always been that the government can repel lethal attacks.

The problem is that the drone strike program is often not about combatants. It is about people who may or may not be conspiring, but they’re not in combat. They’re in a car, they’re in their house, they’re in a restaurant, they’re in a cafe.

If we’re going to bring that standard to America, what I’m doing down here today is asking the president to be explicit. If you’re going to have the standard that you are going to kill noncombatants in America, come forward and please say it clearly so we know what we’re up against.


JAY: Now joining us to talk about Rand Paul’s filibuster is Brian Doherty. He’s a senior editor at Reason magazine, which is one of the country’s leading libertarian publications.

Thanks very much for joining us.


JAY: So why is Rand doing this now? And why this issue?

DOHERTY: You know, he’s doing it because the Brennan nomination is up, and this is the place where a senator gets to weigh in with that whole advise and consent thing. And he’s really trying to show that he is one of the few and in some cases one of the only senators in Washington who actually is going to stand up to the administration on some very basic rule of law issues.

The question he’s positing, of course, is: does the president have the right to unilaterally kill American citizens on American soil without due process of law? And he’s a little bit disturbed that when he’s asked the administration and asked Brennan to sort of unequivocally say no, which is what you’d think the answer would be, the administration doesn’t want to do that.

And he’s sort of shoring up his civil liberties bona fides, probably for a 2016 presidential run, which everyone suspects he’s going to do. Whether or not he’s going to win any support on the left for this is hard to say, ’cause a lot of them tend to just be for their guy and for their team.

Of course, Paul also made a point of spelling out that he would be saying the same thing, raising the same objections, even if it were a Republican in office. And because of his libertarian background, I actually believe him when he says it. I wouldn’t necessarily believe that of any other Republican.

JAY: Yeah. And he did vote in favor of Hagel’s confirmation, where he actually went against most of the Republicans on that, and I think because Hagel is a little closer to his view of what U.S. foreign policy should be. I don’t know if he goes as far as his father, Ron Paul, did, but Ron Paul was in favor of closing all American military bases around the world and bringing American troops home. Actually, while we’re at it, let me ask: does Rand go that far?

DOHERTY: You know, I don’t believe that Rand Paul has ever said to bring all troops home from everywhere. But he did make a very prominent foreign policy speech in front of the right-wing Heritage Foundation last month in which he tried to raise the question for a Republican audience that, hey, we have to admit, if we’re supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility, if we’re supposed to be the party that adheres to the Constitution, that it’s not really our constitutional mission—and we can’t really afford it—to try to manage the world. So he’s sort of—he’s laid out the idea that we shouldn’t have our military everywhere. I don’t believe he has ever said the words bring all the troops home now, but he certainly is the Republican senator who is the most skeptical of foreign intervention.

He’s even gone so far as to say, hey, even if Iran does get a nuclear weapon, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to wage war. And he points to the historical example of the Soviet Union, a terror-sponsoring state run by madmen with tons of nuclear weapons. We managed to contain them without going to war, and Rand Paul has suggested we could do the same with Iran—again, a very rare thing to hear from any politician, much less a Republican.

JAY: Well, I think a lot of people around the world have seen the U.S. state and might have described it as such over the last 50, 60 years, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Let me just say, in terms of my own take on this, I think it’s kind of outrageous that Rand Paul is the only person filibustering this today. This issue was raised in the Senate Intelligence Committee when Brennan was before it. I don’t think the Obama administration ever provided the real legal justification for this, and they’ve never clearly answered the question on whether or not these drone strikes and the order of someone being killed could happen even on American soil, never mind killing Americans abroad. And let me add one other caveat. There’s certainly nothing under international law that allows killing of non-U.S. citizen noncombatants all over the world, which is going on. So Rand could have raised that as well.

But let me quickly play another clip of what Rand said today about the use of drone strikes in the United States.


PAUL: If sympathizing with our enemies and propagandizing on their behalf is equivalent to making war on our country, then the Johnson and Nixon administrations should have bombed every elite college in America, because during the 1960s that’s all that came out was anti-America, antiwar.

Is objecting to your government or objecting to the policy of your government sympathizing with the enemy? Some openly were sympathetic. No one will ever forget Jane Fonda swiveling around in North Vietnamese armored guns, and it was despicable. Now, it’s one thing if you want to try her for treason, but are you going to just drop a drone Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda? Are you going to drop a Hellfire missile on those at Kent State?


JAY: That was Rand Paul speaking during his filibuster. As we speak in this interview he’s still at it, trying to block the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA.

Brian, it is a principled position, in my point of view. It’s consistent with what Rand Paul always stood for prior to running for Senate. And I’ll say again, I think it’s outrageous that he’s the only one there, and there should be I don’t know how many Democrats that claim to be progressive and against militarism and against such illegality that are not up there standing with him, and it’s outrageous.

But given all of that, let’s talk about the politics of this. Rand did accept money from Karl Rove during his election as a Kentucky senator, and that was sort of in my mind a beginning of this kind of a positioning of himself, but within the Republican Party, and starting to work with those people that he thought were the enemy. I interviewed Rand Paul in the New Hampshire primaries, and he told me he had more in common with people like Kucinich and who were opposing at that time Bush–Cheney overseas adventures and illegal invasions, he had more in common with Kucinich and the Democratic progressives, antiwar progressives, than he did with the neocons. But he took money from Rove, and then more so he supported Romney in the election, who’s—clearly was building a neocon foreign policy cabal around himself. So, I mean, where is the overall consistency here for Rand?

DOHERTY: Sure. I want to quickly say I sat through the whole filibuster, and there were a handful of other people who did sort of go up there with Rand. Actually, Wyden from the Democratic side actually did—I don’t know if join in is the technical term, but he showed up on the floor to ask him questions. So did Lee and Rubio and Ted Cruz.

But to your larger question, yeah, Rand Paul is definitely trying to build an audience beyond the fanatical fans of his father Ron Paul. He has what you—you could call it political intelligence, you could call it sneakiness almost, but he is definitely trying to bring in your sort of standard Karl Rove talk radio—the talk radio wing of the GOP. He is not trying to deliberately alienate anyone in his own party, which his father had no problem of doing.

That said, I think things like his filibuster today over this issue that no one, either from the Democratic or the Republican Party side, really cares about shows that he is also trying to stay true blue to his libertarian roots. He is not going out of his way to become a lickspittle to the standard right wing. Neither is he trying to alienate them. It’s a very difficult, as we were discussing earlier, sort of tightrope that he is trying to walk.

And so far I think he has succeeded. He hasn’t fallen one way or the other. You know, he appeals to the neocons by saying things like, you know, Israel, an imminent attack on Israel is an attack on us. He appeals to the libertarian wing by things like this filibuster and things like saying, we could contain a nuclear Iran. I think he’s doing magnificently so far. Of course, he’s going to have a lot of opportunity to screw up between now and 2016. But he is trying to be a libertarian-leaning Republican who can appeal to the wide Republican base.

JAY: And in doing so, as I say, I give him a lot of credit for this drone filibuster. But is he not on the whole losing what he stood for? And maybe he has to, in terms of pragmatically advancing himself in any kind of position to run in 2016, which everybody says is what he’s trying to do. But, like, for example, his position on Israel, I mean, certainly his father—and I can’t say I remember directly Rand saying this, but I never heard Rand disagreeing with his father before he ran as senator. But Ron Paul, I thought, was always pretty clear that this one-sided support for Israel was not in America’s national strategic interest. But that’s not what you hear from Rand.

DOHERTY: No. You know, I’m not going to use the term sold out. I will say that he is trying to not draw the concerted opposition of, you know, what you call your [incompr.] Israel lobby, which also played into how Rand Paul handled the politics of the Chuck Hagel nomination.

As you might remember, Rand Paul was part of the filibuster against bringing Hagel to a vote, and yet when the vote actually came, he went ahead and voted for Hagel. So he has two different things he could point to. He could point to Hagel’s enemies and go, hey, look, I was trying my hardest to get Hagel to answer the tough questions. I was not helping rush the vote. And yet when the vote actually happened, he did vote for him. But he didn’t say he voted for him because he agreed with him. It was interesting. Rand Paul basically said, well, I generally believe the president should be able to have the cabinet member he wants, absent some obvious gross reason [incompr.] So he managed to vote for Hagel without actually really endorsing what Hagel stands for in terms of him being supposedly an enemy of Israel, which I don’t think was ever really true anyway.

So, no, I don’t think he has done anything that is an outright selling out of noninterventionist principles. I mean, it’s never healthy to hear an American politician say that an attack on Israel is an attack on us. That sort of mentality, I think, is at the root of why we’re dug in so deep and so foolishly in the Middle East. It’s not a good attitude. But that said, he’s not out there saying that oh my God, we have to go to war with Iran right now, which is basically what John Kerry was out there saying the other day. So, yeah, I think his noninterventionist bona fides are still reasonably solid right now.

JAY: Where is he on this resolution that Lindsey Graham’s pushing, which essentially says that if Israel attacks Iran, the United States should jump in and then join in? In other words, Israel gets to decide what war the United States participates in, which is, I think, the essence of Lindsey Graham’s resolution.

DOHERTY: Yeah. I do not know what Rand Paul has said about that resolution. Certainly, if he did support it, that would be remarkably disappointing and, I think, a violation of his containment philosophy which he expressed at that Heritage Foundation speech. But, honestly, I am not exactly sure if he has ever said anything about that resolution.

JAY: Okay. Just one final quick question, then. How is it working? How is Rand in the Ron Paul constituency?

DOHERTY: It’s working alright. I think, you know, I’m sort of deep in the Ron Paul world. I wrote a book about him. But I think it’s worth remembering that the sort of fanatic on the internet for Ron Paul is not that large of a voting bloc. I mean, Ron Paul got 2.1 million votes in the primaries last year, and Rand Paul definitely needs to keep most of those people. I don’t think most of those people [incompr.] on the internet, so I think right now, especially today, I’ve been keeping my eye on the chatter about this. Rand Paul is definitely seeming like he’s still a star to that core Ron Paul audience.

JAY: Okay. Good. Well, we’ll come back to this issue as things develop. Thanks very much for joining us.

DOHERTY: Thanks for having me.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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