Emerging Bipartisan Alliance:
End the Imperial Presidency
by Edward Spannaus
March 12—The highly successful "talking filibuster" mounted by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on March 6, exposed the fragmentation of the two-party system which has ruled the United States since the Andrew Jackson Presidency, and marked the emergence of a new, bipartisan alliance against the imperial Presidency of Barack Obama. While the filibuster was ostensibly aimed at forcing the White House to respond to issues surrounding the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director, Paul made clear that he was in fact addressing deeper Constitutional issues.
In the wake of Paul's action, the news media was full of talk of how he had "scrambled the politics of left and right" (New York Times); "forced Washington slightly off its axis" and "revealed some surprising alliances and divisions on Capitol Hill" (Washington Post); and exposed "deepening divisions within Republican ranks" (Washington Times)—just to name a few examples.
But, Lyndon LaRouche cut to the chase, highlighting the deeper significance of the week's events, in his Friday, March 8 weekly webcast. Since Andrew Jackson was brought into power, LaRouche said, we have not had—except for rare intervals—a system of government based on our Constitution, but "we've had a system of Congressional rule, Congressional party rule, and it was a question of a fight between two parties" for the majority position.
Now, in the wake of the Paul filibuster, "We don't have a majority party system anymore," LaRouche declared.
"Glory Hallelujah! We don't have a majority party system anymore! We have a system which is fragmented; [there] are people who may be Republican, or they may call themselves Democrats, that's their choice, in running for office and occupying office."
"The Republican Party is now in a sense a fragmented, in terms of its views on hot issues," LaRouche continued.
"The Democratic Party is going to go through the same process, slowed down by the factor of Obama, but the Obama thing is going to backfire against the Democrats, too. So now we've come to the point, we have to get rid of that kind of party system. People can choose their parties that they want to affiliate with, but the idea of operating on the basis of control of United States policy by a party system, that must come to an end.
"And what Rand Paul did, in his particular action, went a long way, as of now, toward setting the end of the party system into motion. People can still have political parties, but the idea of rule by party majority, that has to come to an end."
Obama Plays Emperor
As background to Paul's filibuster, recall that for months, no one had been able to get a straight answer to the simple question of whether the President could conduct a targeted killing of an American, within the United States. Obama's top spokesmen on the drone policy, Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan and Attorney General Eric Holder, had both refused to give directs answers to that question, which had been raised by Senators Paul and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Brennan and Holder continued to stonewall on supplying the legal documents by which they justify their use of drone strikes, often against unnamed targets, internationally.
Brennan would not give a direct answer during his Feb. 7 confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His responses to follow-up questions were equally vague (see Documentation, below).
On Feb. 14, during a Google-sponsored online question-and-answer session, President Obama was asked a similar question, and he also equivocated, responding, in effect, that "we haven't done it so far, but we might."
After Paul had repeatedly threatened to hold up Brennan's confirmation until he got a straight answer, the Attorney General sent a letter to Paul on March 4, but equivocated again.
Meanwhile, the uproar about the Administration's stonewall on providing legal documents continued to grow, and had spread from the Senate Intelligence Committee to the House. On Feb. 27, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing where both Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), voiced their outrage over the withholding of all legal documents upon which drone strike decisions are based. Holder refused an invitation to come, reflecting Obama's view that he, the President, can act as he alone deems fit—the imperial Presidency.
A Bipartisan Challenge
On March 6, Senator Paul began his filibuster on the occasion of the vote for Brennan's confirmation as head of the CIA, declaring that, "I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty by a court."
As Paul commenced, Holder was being grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was conducting a Justice Department oversight hearing. Under intense questioning, Holder continued to refuse to rule out the possibility that President Obama could lawfully kill an American citizen inside the United States, whom he considered to be plotting to attack the United States, without granting that person due process of law.
While Republicans were the most aggressive in interrogating Holder, the Administration was put on notice by the Committee Chairman, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that the Committee could issue a subpoena to the Justice Department for the legal memoranda justifying targeted killings of Americans. Among those raising the drone issue was the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), who pointed out that the Committee's letters to Obama and Holder seeking access to classified memos "have gone unanswered." He also complained that the legal memoranda that were made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, were not made available to the Judiciary Committee, which is, of course, the committee of jurisdiction for the Justice Department, and needs them as part of its oversight function. "American citizens have a right to understand when their life can be taken by their government, absent due process," Grassley said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) came the closest to eliciting an answer from Holder, when he asked, "if an individual is sitting quietly at a cafe in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?" After equivocating that it would not be "appropriate" to kill an American who didn't pose an imminent threat, who wasn't doing something "imminent," Holder eventually said he wanted to "translate my 'appropriate' to 'no.' " But Cruz did not pin Holder down as to what he means by "imminent," which was defined extremely loosely in the DOJ White Paper. Holder's refusal to directly answer the questions on targetting killings were cited repeatedly during the filibuster on the Senate floor, including by Cruz.
Other Senators Join the Fight
During his 13-hour talkathon, Paul was joined on the Senate floor by 13 other Senators. While under Senate rules, Paul had to remain standing on the Senate floor at all times; he was permitted to entertain "questions" from other Senators who expressed their support for what he was doing. Those Senators who "joined" the filibuster included 11 Republicans, one Democrat (Ron Wyden of Oregon), and one Independent (Angus King of Maine). Wyden cited other Democratic Senators, e.g., Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Mark Udall (Colo.), and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) as members of the Intelligence Committee who share the concern over drones. The Republicans who directly participated were:
- John Barrasso (Wyo.),
- Mitch McConnell (Ky.),
- Saxby Chambliss (Ga.),
- John Cornyn (Tex.),
- John Thune (S.D.),
- Patrick Toomey (Pa.),
- Ron Johnson (Wisc.),
- Mike Lee (Utah),
- Jerry Moran (Kan.),
- Ted Cruz (Tex.),
- Marco Rubio (Fla.),
- Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and
- Tim Scott (S.C.).
Although they were not allowed to speak, 16 House Republicans showed up in the Senate to show solidarity. They were:
- Louis Gohmert (Tex.),
- Thomas Massie (Ky.),
- Justin Amash (Mich.),
- Ron DeSantis (Fla.),
- Doug LaMalfa (Calif.),
- Garland Barr (Ky.),
- Trey Radel (Fla.),
- Michael Burgess (Tex.),
- Jim Bridenstine (Okla.),
- Raul Labrador (Id.),
- Keith Rothfus (Pa.),
- Paul Gosar (Ariz.),
- Steve Daines (Mont.),
- Bill Huizenga (Mich.),
- Richard Hudson (N.C.), and
- David Schweikert (Ariz.).
After about five hours, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to cut off the discussion. Paul said that he would be glad to comply, but only after getting a written statement from the President or the Attorney General, that the President does not have the authority to kill a non-combatant in America. Reid then declared the sessions over, but Paul and Co. ignored him, and continued talking.
Significantly, in discussing Obama's (and Holder's) claim that only the President can interpret the Constitution regarding war powers, a number of Senators explicitly raised the January 2012 Federal Appeals Court ruling which slammed Obama for violating the Constitution in making so-called recess appointments, and by unilaterally asserting that only he had the power to decide when Congress was, or was not, in session.
Paul ended the filibuster at about 12:45 on Thursday morning, saying that he was hopeful that he and the others had "drawn attention to this issue," and that the President would come out with a response later in the day. He thanked all those who had participated and supported him.
Paul Declares Victory
In a desultory Senate session Thursday morning, pro-war Republican Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), still glowing from their special dinner with President Obama the previous night, took to the Senate floor, to ridicule and denounce Paul for the filibuster, calling his concerns about domestic drone strikes "totally unfounded."
They each read approvingly from a Wall Street Journal editorial which lectured Paul: "Calm down, Senator, Mr. Holder is right, even if he doesn't explain the law very well," and which went on to sputter: "If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms." As to Paul's question about killing Americans, Graham spluttered, "I find the question offensive," adding, "I do not believe that question deserves an answer."
About an hour after the McCain-Graham show, the White House released a letter to Senator Paul from Attorney General Holder which finally gave a direct answer to Paul's question—even if it didn't clear up all the ambiguities surrounding the issue of drones and targeted assassinations (see Documentation).
While Paul was being interviewed on Fox News, the Holder letter was obtained by the network, and was read to the Senator, who exclaimed: "Hooray! For 13 hours yesterday, we asked him that question, and so there is a result and a victory. Under duress and under public humiliation, the White House will respond and do the right thing.... My next question would be, why did it take so long, why is it so hard?... But I am glad, and I think that answer does answer my question."
In a later statement, Paul said: "This is a major victory for American civil liberties and ensures the protection of our basic Constitutional rights. We have Separation of Powers to protect our rights.... I would like to congratulate my fellow colleagues in both the House and Senate, and thank them for joining me in protecting the rights of due process."
The cloture vote, conducted after Paul had withdrawn his objection, carried by 81-16. This was immediately followed by the vote on Brennan's confirmation, which carried by a narrower margin, 63-34, with over one-third of Senators voting against Brennan. Among those voting "no" were two Democrats, Leahy and Jeff Merkley (Ore.), plus Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Only the Beginning
Brennan's confirmation does not signify, by any means, that Obama's problems with the Congress are over. The top Democrat and the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee (Leahy and Grassley), both of whom voted against Brennan, let it be known that they are still determined to obtain access to the Administration's secret legal memos on targeted killings. Senator Leahy, the Committee chairman, had already signalled, in the March 6 hearing with Holder, that some of the votes that would be cast against Brennan's confirmation, "will be because of the inability to get that memo here."
And after the confirmation vote, Leahy issued a statement saying that "the Administration has stonewalled me and the Judiciary Committee for too long on a reasonable request to review the legal justification for the use of drones in the targeted killing of American citizens." Both Leahy and Grassley, the senior Republican, are insistent that the Committee must get access to the same legal memos that were provided to the Intelligence Committee, and Chairman Leahy is threatening a subpoena.
In the aftermath of the Paul filibuster, there erupted an explosion of commentary, recognizing that the political landscape in the U.S. has irreversibly shifted in the direction of an emerging bipartisan fight against Obama's imperial policies. Within the "conservative" wing of the Republican Party, a deep split has emerged between the McCain-Graham wing, and those backing Rand Paul. On the Democratic side, while many are still enmired in a slavish defense of Obama, a significant number of liberal commentators have praised Paul's actions, despite their distaste for some of his other policies.
In a CNN interview on March 8, Wyden was asked if he had gotten a lot of "blowback" from fellow Democrats for joining with Paul. "Not too much," Wyden said,
"because I think there is a sense that there is a new political movement emerging in our country, and it crosses party lines, and it is all about Americans who want to see policymakers strike a better balance between protecting our security and protecting our liberty."
Rand Paul underscored the same point on Fox News March 8:
"Four or five Democrat[ic] Senators, which is, to me, a great compliment, came up afterwards and said they agreed with what I was saying and they appreciated the spirit, they appreciated the zeal. And so, you know, it was a great compliment to me that people felt like I was fighting for some higher cause than simply partisanship."
And on March 11, eight House Democrats, members of the Progressive Caucus, released the text of a letter which slams the unconstitutionality of Obama's drone policy and global war doctrine, and which demands full disclosure of the legal rationale for Obama's drone program. In releasing the letter, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) emphasized "Congress's vital oversight role in these matters," and the need for counterterrorism policies to be "consistent with the commands of our Constitution, including our system of checks and balances."