Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul argued Friday that the domestic drone strike program should be the “preeminent libertarian concern,” making his hold on CIA director nominee John Brennan a higher priority than his vote against ending debate on defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
“Everybody is really excited about Hagel, but the most important question and the most important constitutional issue is whether or not the president can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on U.S. soil,” Paul told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s a much bigger question than Hagel.”
Paul said he has questions for Brennan about domestic drones that have so far gone unanswered, leading him to temporarily block the nomination. Many of his Republican colleagues have questions about Hagel’s speeches and financial information. “We can only get answers if there’s 41 of us willing to stand together and demand them,” the senator said.
“This was a vote on whether to end debate,” Paul explained. “It was not an up-or-down vote on [Hagel's] nomination.” He said that presidents should be given wide latitude in making appointments, and added he remained undecided on both nominees.
Prominent libertarians and antiwar conservatives, many of them supporters of Paul’s father’s presidential campaign, criticized the senator’s Hagel vote. Hagel is himself a former Republican senator.
“You would think by some of the comments I get that Hagel is really Harry Browne,” Paul quipped, referring to the 1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. “They make him out to be some sort of libertarian champion, and he’s not.”
Paul allowed that Hagel favored a “somewhat less aggressive foreign policy,” but described him as a “believer in most intervention,” listing his votes in favor of the Patriot Act, foreign aid and the Iraq war.
“All of this is not to say that I won’t in the end still vote to allow him,” Paul said. “But I also want information on Brennan and I need my colleagues’ support.”
The senator told TheDC News Foundation that “on a scale of one to one thousand” extrajudicial killings were “one thousand” in importance and Hagel’s confirmation was “maybe one.”
“Do I think Hagel deserves credit for being a war hero and for speaking out against waste in the Pentagon?” Paul asked. “Yes.”
But the senator said he doubted Hagel would have much impact on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. “I’m not sure Obama is less interventionist than Bush,” Paul said.
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