WASHINGTON – The political fallout from Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster has begun as fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham switched Thursday to support John Brennan as CIA director, saying the vote has become a “referendum” on the drone program.
Graham’s changed position comes after Paul, the Kentucky tea party favorite, became an overnight political sensation for holding the Senate floor nearly 13 hours as he pressed the Obama administration for assurances Americans would not be targeted on U.S. soil by unmanned military-style aircraft.
“I was going to vote against Brennan until the filibuster, so he picked up one vote,” Graham said. “This whole argument that somehow Brennan and the president are operating outside of just good logic and human decency – I don’t want to cast a vote to suggest that I think that’s credible.”
The South Carolina Republican and his longtime GOP ally, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, held the Senate floor for their own moment Thursday, as they defended the drone program and criticized Paul’s effort as misguided.
"I don't think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people," McCain said on the Senate floor.
Graham said that while he believes Brennan is qualified for the post, he had previously sought to withhold his support because he finds Brennan “arrogant, a bit shifty.”
“I am going to vote for Brennan now because it’s become a referendum on the drone program,” Graham said.
The nomination of Obama’s choice to head the spy agency was approved by the Intelligence Committee in a lopsided vote this week, with three senators opposed. Brennan was on track for approval Wednesday until Paul launched an old-fashioned filibuster.
The talk-a-thon drew widespread attention on and off Capitol Hill, and other GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – a onetime Paul critic – lined up to join after an outpouring the public interest. Tea party activists were thrilled, seizing the moment as a victory in their pursuit of limited government.
Once Paul relented after midnight, the vote was set for the procedurally earliest date, Saturday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Thursday morning he hoped to find agreement with Republican leaders to conduct the vote sooner, but McConnell now has decided to oppose Brennan’s nomination and appeared unwilling to yield. At least one Democrat had also joined Paul’s effort.
Paul said Thursday morning on CNN he would allow the vote sooner if the White House would provide information he sought – a move that could be seen as a gesture toward the administration.
Other GOP senators also may be reconsidering their opposition to Brennan, Graham said.
“You just stay tuned,” he said.