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John T.
Republican SD

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—Executive Calendar

    by Senator John Thune

    Posted on 2013-03-06

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    THUNE. Madam President, I thank the Senator from Kentucky for yielding for a question. I appreciate his diligence in continuing at this late hour to get an answer to some very important questions.

    I think many of us when we got up and came in this morning were preparing and getting ready for the big blizzard of 2013 which, of course, never materialized here in Washington, DC. Evidently, there were a lot of agencies of government that were not here today. Perhaps when they get back, maybe the Senator from Kentucky will get an answer to his question. I think it is a straightforward question.

    I am someone this evening who has supported the use of drones in fighting the war on terror. I think they have been very effective in killing terrorists, people who want to do harm to the people of this country. But I think the question that has been raised by the Senator from Kentucky--and the reason we are here this evening--has to do with a straightforward issue. He has a sense of the Senate on which he is prepared to have the Senate go on record, and it is very simple and very straightforward. It says: Resolved that it is the sense of the Senate that, No. 1, the use of drones to execute or target American citizens on American soil who pose no imminent threat clearly violates the constitutional due process rights of citizens.

    No. 2, the American people deserve a clear, concise, and unequivocal public statement from the President of the United States that contains detailed legal reasoning including, but not limited to, the balance between national security and due process, limits of Executive power, and distinction between treatment of citizens and noncitizens within and outside the borders of the United States, the use of lethal force against American citizens, and the use of drones and the application of lethal force within the United States territory.

    It is a very straightforward resolution, a sense of the Senate, and all that the Senator from Kentucky is simply doing is trying to get a response and get a vote on that and make that the statement of the Senate. He obviously wants to get the President of the United States, the White House, and Mr. Brennan--whose nomination is pending before us--to make a clarification on that point.

    It is not like this issue popped up overnight. The Senator from Kentucky has been trying for some time to get an answer to this question. He has submitted numerous letters addressed to Mr. Brennan.

    This is a letter from February 12 where he poses numerous questions, one of which is: Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil? What about the use of lethal force against a non-U.S. person on U.S. soil? These are straightforward questions to which the Senator from Kentucky deserves an answer, and this is a perfectly fitting and appropriate time in which to try and get that answer.

    The nomination of the CIA Director is an incredibly important and strategic position in this country, and under the Constitution of the United States, article II, section 2, the President has the power by and with the advice and consent of the Senate to make treaties provided two-thirds of the Senators concur. ``He shall nominate, and with the advice of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers, counsels, judges of the Supreme Court, and other officers of the United States.'' It is the advise and consent power that the Senate has under the Constitution that the Senator from Kentucky is exercising on this nomination.

    Again, it has been pointed out many times on the floor of the Senate today this is not something that is a partisan issue. It is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is something that has ramifications. It is a constitutional question. It has to do with due process under the law. It has to do with the advise and consent power of the Senate under the Constitution. So when the Senator from Kentucky continues to press the administration for a straightforward answer, he continues to get sort of these vague, ambiguous answers, if you will. Again, these are questions that did not just pop up overnight. Back on January 25 of this year, 2013, the Senator from Kentucky posed to Mr. Brennan a series of questions at that time. The follow-on letter, which I quoted from earlier, was from February 12. He put forward questions, such as: Do you agree with the argument put forth on numerous occasions by the executive branch that it is legal to order the killing of American citizens and it is not compelled to explain its reasoning in reaching this conclusion? Do you believe this is a good precedent for the government to set? He goes on to ask another question: Would it not be appropriate to require a judge or court to review every case before the individual in question is added to a targeting list? Please describe the due process requirements in place for those individuals being considered for addition to a targeting list. Would you agree it is paradoxical that the Federal Government would need to go before a judge to authorize a wiretap on U.S. citizens overseas but possibly not to order a lethal drone strike against the same individual? If not, please explain why you believe something similar to the FISA standard should not be applied in regard to lethal actions against citizens of the United States.

    These are straightforward questions. These are questions to which I believe the Senator from Kentucky deserves an answer. Many of us this evening, at this late hour, are here to support him in that endeavor and his attempt at least to try--as this nomination moves through the process--to get the answers to the questions that would allow him to perform the advise and consent function that is in the U.S. Constitution as it applies to nominations and as it has been implemented here by the Senators in history.

    I want to say to the Senator from Kentucky--and I have a question for him in a moment--that it is remarkable to see this process unfold. In my time here--and I came in the 2004 election; started my service in the U.S. Senate in January of 2005--I have not seen a time where we had a Senator who as a matter of principle stood down here for the number of hours he has today and insisted on getting some answers. I give him great credit for the job he has done in pressing this issue.

    He has not been given that answer yet. It sounds as though it has kind of come up to the line a couple of times. It is very simple. They could put this thing to rest. All they have to do is come forward and answer that very simple question about the legal authority to target American citizens on American soil with drone attacks. It doesn't seem to me, at least, that it would be that hard of a question to answer. They say as a matter of policy [[Page S1220]] they have not done that and they don't have any intention of doing it in the future. Why don't we put this issue to rest once and for all, and the Senator from Kentucky will allow the process to go forward and Mr. Brennan can get his vote.

    In the time I have been here, at least, it certainly is remarkable to me to see the amount of effort the Senator from Kentucky has put forward in trying to get an answer to a very straightforward question. I give him great credit for that, because a principled stand is something we don't see enough of around here. So to stand here and use his powers as a Senator in a way that is very fitting with the tradition and history of this great institution--we look at the U.S. Senate and those who have come before, the place of great characters of our history, including Calhoun and others who have graced the U.S. Senate and some of the great debates that have occurred in the past. It is nice to see a discussion and debate about a major constitutional issue, a major constitutional question.

    I, as do many of my colleagues who are here this evening, support the Senator from Kentucky in his quest to get answers. I think it is certainly appropriate. I think it certainly should be expected that the administration respond to what are very straightforward questions with regard to the issue that has been raised by the Senator and I hope that answer will be forthcoming. If it is not, it is entirely possible, I suppose, that this could continue for some time into the future.

    But in any event, I ask the Senator from Kentucky what it will take in terms of some sort of affirmation, some sort of answer, some sort of response from the White House, from the nominee, the Director of the CIA, to satisfy the question he has raised. It seems to me, at least as a Senator from South Dakota, that the question he poses is a straightforward and simple one and merely requires a very simple answer.

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