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Wyden ‘encouraged’ by White House response on drones

“Last night’s step by the president is an encouraging one,” said Wyden on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “There’s certainly a lot more to do.”

Wyden’s comments come ahead of what is likely to be a contentious hearing for top White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, whom President Obama has tapped to lead the CIA. Lawmakers are expected to grill Brennan on the administration’s use of armed drone strikes, in particular against American citizens suspected of terror ties.

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A Justice Department white paper leaked earlier this week outlined the legal basis for the administration’s drone policy, but the White House, while defending the operations as “fully consistent” with the Constitution, initially ignored congressional calls for more information.

But with lawmakers threatening to block Brennan’s nomination unless they receive more information, the White House reversed course and announced late Wednesday that it would brief lawmakers on drone strikes against U.S. citizens before Brennan’s hearing on Thursday.

Wyden yesterday had threatened to “pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis” used by the administration. The president called the lawmaker late last night to reassure him that he was committed to addressing lawmaker concerns.

“I was encouraged last night when the president called and he said that as part of this effort he is going to try to drive a more extensive discussion about these issues,” Wyden said of their conversation.

Wyden said he would press for more information from the administration.

“What I am going to be pressing though today and in the days ahead is declassifying more information about those issues. We can do it consistent with national security; that’s the next step,” said Wyden.

“This is the time, we are living in an age where in effect the military and intelligence lines have really blurred. We have got to have much more robust congressional oversight, and I do think this all has to lead to a more informed public debate,” he added.