The Senate confirmed John Brennan as director of the CIA on Thursday, following a 13-hour filibuster led by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations MORE (R-Ky.).
Brennan, the current White House counterterrorism chief, was approved to head the CIA, 63 to 34. The confirmation came after weeks of contentious hearings concerning Brennan's ties to the administration's armed drone program, and was capped by Paul's old-fashioned filibuster..
Brennan could begin his tenure as CIA director as early as this week.
Paul began filibustering the nomination on Wednesday, demanding that the Obama administration state clearly that the armed drone program would not be used against American citizens on American soil. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE sent a letter to Paul, stating that the administration has no right to target and kill American citizens on U.S. soil.
"Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no. The answer to that question is no," according to Holder's letter, read to reporters by White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Prior to Wednesday's filibuster, several GOP Senators had expected a
smooth confirmation for Brennan, compared to the bitter partisan fight
that plagued Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE's confirmation.
Shortly after Holder's letter to Paul, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt MORE (D-Nev.) announced a deal had been reached with Republicans to hold a vote on the Brennan nomination.
Of the 34 votes cast against Brennan, two were Democrats -- Sens. Pat Leahy (Vt.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Democrats look for plan B on filibuster GOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill MORE (Ore.). Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision a 'reach' Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants MORE (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, also voted nay.
Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Live coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.), ranking member on the Senate Intelligence panel, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas) voted against confirmation also opposed the Brennan bid on Thursday.
“While I respect Mr. Brennan’s experience and service, he does not possess the objectivity and independence that are crucial to successfully carrying out the responsibilities of Director of our nation’s most important intelligence agency," Cornyn said in a statement.
Georgia Republican, for his part, said his no vote was not an admonishment of the CIA or the intelligence community, but it indicated his frustration over unauthorized leaks of classified intelligence by the White House under Brennan's watch.
Sensitive information on intelligence operations, ranging from the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani hideout to cyber warfare missions against Iran, were made public.
Those leaks, according to Chambliss, endangered critical American counterterrorism operations for the White House's political gain.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE, Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Sailors didn't know what to do in USS Bonhomme Richard fire, Navy probe finds Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children MORE (R-Okla.) also voted against the Brennan nomination, as did Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Leahy.
Both Leahy and Grassley argued that the White House has yet to disclose sensitive information on the drone program to the Judiciary panel.
"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," Leahy said in a statement shortly after the confirmation vote.
Both senators have been pressing the Obama administration to hand over the Justice Department memos justifying the drone program, arguing they deserved the same access to those documents as their counterparts on the Senate intelligence panel.
“I have worked with John Brennan, and I respect his record, his experience, and his dedication to public service ... [but] I expect the Judiciary Committee, which has [Justice Department] oversight ... to be afforded the same access," Leahy said. "For that reason, I reluctantly opposed Mr. Brennan’s nomination.”
GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Meghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' MORE (Ariz.) voted to confirm Brennan, after abandoning plans to block the nomination due to unanswered questions about last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Graham said Wednesday that he would continue to press the issue, in which U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed during the attack, in future hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Thursday, both Republicans slammed Paul's filibuster as "ridiculous," arguing there would be no scenario in which U.S. drones would kill American citizens inside the United States.
"To infer that the president is going to kill someone ... who disagrees with him is simply ridiculous,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “If someone is an enemy combatant, that enemy combatant has nowhere to hide."
Paul voted against the confirmation.
During his time at CIA, and later as White House counterterrorism chief, Brennan played a key policy role in ushering in the aggressive use of targeted killings of suspected terrorists via armed aerial drone strikes.
The growing political pressure in Washington on the drone program prompted Brennan to turn down the CIA nomination in 2008, paving the way for then-Gen. David Petraeus to assume the post. Petraeus stepped down from CIA last year after admitting to an extramarital affair.
-- Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report