President Obama launched his "charm offensive" against the GOP last Wednesday. It began when he and Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) were chatting on the phone, and Obama suggested it would be swell if he and the GOP leaders could get together sometime to reminisce about all the good times they've had. Although this would take about eleven seconds to accomplish, Obama and Graham decided to host a dinner instead.
Senator Graham put together the following guest list: the president, himself, and Republican Senators Tom Coburn, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Bob Corker, Ron Johnson, Saxby Chambliss, John Hoeven, Dan Coats, Richard Burr, and Mike Johanns. Notably. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner were not invited. Of course, McConnell and Boehner can function as charm repellents, however omitting the two senior Republican leaders from the guest list doesn't seem like an effective strategy.
The dinner took place Wednesday, and was by all accounts an unqualified success. The group dined on Lobster Thermidor with a white wine saffron galcage and herbed baby potatoes; Moulard Duck Breast; and Fillet of Beef with truffled potato mouselline, bone marrow and Madeira Jus. "This is how you solve hard problems," Sen. Lindsey Graham opined. The price tag for taxpayers to feed our beloved public servants hovered around $3,500, but charm offensives aren't cheap. There's a superstition that it's bad luck to sit down 13 people at a table, but President Obama is undeterred by risk, as evidenced by his willingness to allow Lindsey Graham to be in charge of anything.
Meanwhile, less than 3 miles away, Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) was already several hours in to his marathon filibuster of John Brennan, Obama's nominee to head the CIA. The filibuster was really about the drone program, which is used for a variety of liberty-friendly purposes such as domestic policing, surveillance, and attacks on anyone the federal government deems to be an enemy.
Sen. Paul took exception to some language in official documents authored by Attorney General Eric Holder, which suggested the president has the authority to use military action inside the U.S. in extraordinary circumstance, and left open the possibility of targeting Americans in the U.S. with drones.
The freshman senator asked whether President Obama claimed the authority to kill a U.S. citizen in this country without trial and conviction. After the deafening silence that followed, the senator filibustered Brennan's nomination the old-fashioned way: he talked for 12 solid hours.
The filibuster generated intense public interest and, by Thursday morning, Rand Paul had an answer. Holder wrote the president does not have the authority to kill a non-combatant U.S. citizen on American soil. He did not say how the president would identify enemy combatants.
There were predictable reactions to the filibuster, like that of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): "There are certain things that fall into the category of 'life is too short.' I myself had four speeches to make last night. I was doing my own thing."
Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss and Pat Toomey supported Rand Paul, despite having been recipients of Obama's charm at dinner the previous evening, and Chambliss added that getting a straight answer out of the Obama White House was like getting a root canal.
President Obama's reaction was also characteristic, in that he did not comment.
The public's reaction to the filibuster was largely positive.
One of the most surprising reactions was from the left-wing social justice group Code Pink, who called on Senator Paul the day after the filibuster to thank him for his efforts.
More surprising though were the reactions of John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Unbelievable, in fact. The two Republican senators took to the floor Thursday in a fury. "I find the question offensive," Graham said, referring to whether the president believes he has the authority to kill a noncombatant U.S. citizen without trial. "I do not believe that question deserves an answer."
John McCain's reaction was even more startling: "If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he's talking about." Whoa – it sounds like McCain's problem is that Rand Paul is being taken seriously. How clever of the Senator to alienate libertarians and young voters, though! There are way too many people clamoring to join the Republican party these days.
What does all this mean? For one, Rand Paul is now a real force in Washington, D.C. Second; Obama shot himself in the foot with his drone program. Many staunch allies who never dared to question him are now looking at the administration askance.
The silver lining for the president is that his drone program has given some credibility to his assertions that weapons need to be heavily regulated. He just had it backwards – obviously, it's the federal government that can't be trusted with weapons, and the citizens who need to do the regulating.
This article was originally published at Lost in the Garden.