Senate Dems vote to advance nomination of drone memo author

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The Senate voted 52-43 Wednesday to end debate and advance the controversial nomination of David Barron, who authored memos justifying drone strikes on U.S. citizens, to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Barron's legal memos for the White House had sparked concerns from Democrats opposed to President Obama's drone policies. Last week, the administration held a meeting with Senate Democrats to reassure them and shore-up support.

Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), voted with Republicans. Still only a simple majority was needed to advance the nominee. Landrieu faces a tough reelection race in November.

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On Tuesday, the administration announced that it would make the memos authored by Barron public, a move which convinced Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to support the nominee. Despite being a critic of the U.S. drone program, Wyden said the White House release of documents was a show of good faith.

But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that wasn’t good enough for him, saying he was disturbed by the content of the memos.

“I believe it’s about what the memos themselves say,” Paul said ahead of the vote. “I rise in opposition of the killing of American citizens without trial. Any nominee who rubber stamps and grants that power to the president is not worthy of being one step away from the Supreme Court.”

Paul has threatened to filibuster Barron’s nomination but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on the nominee last week, meaning Paul can’t stop the vote since the Senate rule change which allows Democrats to end debate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes. 

“I’ve read David Barron’s memos concerning the legal justification for killing an American citizen overseas without a trial or legal representation, and I am not satisfied,” Paul said. “There is no valid legal precedent to justify the killing of an American citizen not engaged in combat.”

Ahead of the vote, Paul tried to get unanimous consent to delay Senate consideration of Barron’s nomination until the public had time to review the promised memos, but Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) objected.

The final confirmation vote is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Thursday.

Paul is considered a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. Another possible candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also spoke out in opposition to Barron’s nomination, calling him an “unabashed judicial activist” who would politicize the courts.

The Senate also confirmed the following nominees by voice-vote:

- Elisebeth Collins Cook to be a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

- Deirdre Daly to be U.S. Attorney for Connecticut.

- James Frazer Green to be U.S. Attorney for the middle district of Louisiana.

- Damon Martinez to be U.S. Attorney for New Mexico.

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