Senate clears John Brennan as CIA chief

John Brennan
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John Brennan has won Senate confirmation to head the CIA after a late struggle that had more to do with presidential power to order drone strikes than with the nominee's credentials to lead the spy agency.

The vote Thursday was 63-34. Brennan will replace Mike Morrell, the acting CIA director since November.

The vote came after the Obama administration bowed to demands from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and specified limits on the president's authority to order drone strikes against American citizens in the United States.

Paul declared he was satisfied with the administration's statement, which said the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.

Paul, a critic of Obama's unmanned drone policy, started his 13-hour filibuster just before noon Wednesday by demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring the unmanned aircraft would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens.

The Obama administration has said the federal government has not conducted such operations inside U.S. borders and has no intention of doing so.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chided Paul for the filibuster, saying, "Well, Mr. President, I watched some of that quote debate unquote yesterday. I saw colleagues of mine who know better come to the floor and voice this same concern which is totally unfounded. I must say that the use of Jane Fonda's name does evoke certain memories with me and I must say that she is not my favorite American. But, I also believe that as odious as it was, Ms. Fonda acted within her constitutional rights and to somehow say that someone who disagrees with American policy and even may demonstrate against it is somehow a member of an organization which makes that individual an enemy combatant is simply false. It is simply false."

Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) issued this statement:

Senator Dan Coats, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued the following statement regarding the nomination of John Brennan to serve as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA):

"I commend Senator Paul on his successful fight to get more information from the administration on its drone policy. He deserved an answer to his question before the Senate confirmed Brennan, and it was unnecessary for the administration to delay its response until today.

I have repeatedly expressed my concerns about this administration withholding key documents from Congress and its lack of accountability on national security leaks. The additional information received both through the work of the Intelligence Committee and Senator Paul's filibuster has helped clarify the administration's actions and policies for the American people.

After several lengthy meetings with the nominee as well as finally obtaining and thoroughly reviewing hundreds of pages of documents from the administration, a sufficient number of my concerns have been addressed. The CIA has gone five months without a director during a time when our country faces very real national security threats, and now that we have received and carefully studied more information, I believe John Brennan should be confirmed.

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I will remain actively involved in exercising the full oversight powers of Congress to ensure we strike the proper balance between security and liberty in all intelligence activities."