CAPITOL HILL — The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama’s pick to head the CIA, counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan.
The 63-34 vote ends a contentious nomination process that was delayed amid heated arguments over America’s use of unmanned aircraft, known as drones.
With more than three decades of experience in U.S. intelligence matters, John Brennan’s qualifications to lead the CIA were never in doubt. In fact, much of the late fury surrounding his nomination had little to do with Brennan at all.
During his confirmation hearing last month, senators grilled Brennan about U.S. drone strikes in countries like Yemen and Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Republicans sought answers from the Obama administration about the possible use of drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
When Attorney General Eric Holder did not absolutely rule out such use, Senator Rand Paul spoke on the Senate floor for 13 consecutive hours Wednesday to delay a confirmation vote on Brennan.
“The president says, ‘I have not killed anyone yet.’ He goes on to say, ‘I have no intention of killing Americans, but I might.’ Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that," asked Paul.
Other Republicans criticized Paul. Senator John McCain labeled it “ridiculous” to even suggest that a president might deploy armed drones to kill American citizens in non-emergency situations.
Shortly before the vote, Paul proclaimed himself satisfied by a letter he received from Holder in which the attorney general stated that the president does not, in fact, have the authority to use a drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil.
The CIA has lacked a director since David Petraeus abruptly resigned last year, a fact noted by the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein.
“The CIA director position must be filled," said Feinstein. "Five months is too long to leave it vacant. And John Brennan, I believe, and 12 members of our committee believe, is the right person to fill it.”
The Intelligence Committee has compiled an exhaustive report on CIA abuses committed at secret sites used to interrogate terror suspects after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Democratic Senator Mark Udall said John Brennan has work to do.
“Our government has an obligation to the American people to face its mistakes transparently, help the public understand the nature of those mistakes, and then correct them," said Udall. "And in this regard, the next director of the CIA has an important task. The specific mistakes I am referring to are outlined in the Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report on the CIA’s deeply-flawed detention and interrogation program. Acknowledging the flaws of this program is essential for the CIA’s long term institutional integrity."
Before serving as a White House counter-terrorism advisor, Brennan had a long career in the CIA that began in 1980.