The Senate voted 63-34 to confirm John Brennan as CIA director Thursday, a vote that united the chamber's Democrats with the exception of two lawmakers: Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
What made Leahy stick his neck out, break party lines, and join Republicans? The Vermont senator is demanding access to the White House Office of Legal Counsel's full legal justification for drone strikes against American citizens, memos which were released to the Senate Intelligence Committee but not to the Judiciary Committee.
"I have worked with John Brennan, and I respect his record, his experience, and his dedication to public service. But 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. "The administration made the relevant OLC memorandum available to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in order to advance this nomination. I expect the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel, to be afforded the same access. For that reason, I reluctantly opposed Mr. Brennan's nomination."
While Leahy's frustrations deserve to be taken at face value, it's also undoubtedly the case that Democratic lawmakers faced increased pressure following the surprise 13-hour talking filibuster attempt by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday. The optics of Republicans appearing to care more about civil liberties than Democrats caused a surge of criticisms from left-leaning journalists such as The Nation's Jeremy Scahill and The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald. (Attempts to reach the Sen, Leahy were not immediately successful.)
Democrats Jeff Merkley and Patrick Leahy voted against Brennan. Any other Dems that people heard?— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 7, 2013
When Condi Rice asserted in 2002 it was lawful for the US to kill a US citizen in a drone strike, guess what Democrats did? NOTHING— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 7, 2013
Bush did kill a US citizen in a drone strike in 2002 in Yemen. Guess what the Democrats did? *crickets*— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 7, 2013
4 years ago, Brennan's advocacy of torture forced him to withdraw for top CIA spot; now, all Dems except 2 vote to confirm him #ObamaLegacy— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 7, 2013