Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas introduced a bill Thursday that would prevent the use of drones to kill Americans on domestic territory if they do not pose an imminent threat.
The measure came hours after Paul conducted on Wednesday a more than 12-hour filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan for director of the CIA. The senator’s filibuster was a move to showcase his growing concern over the Obama administration’s use of drones.
The text of the bill, according to the office of Cruz, states, “The federal government may not use a drone to kill a citizen of the United States who is located in the United States. The prohibition under this subsection shall not apply to an individual who poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to another individual. Nothing in this section shall be construed to suggest that the Constitution would otherwise allow the killing of a citizen of the United States in the United States without due process of law.”
Cruz was among the handful of senators who stood with Paul on Wednesday as he pressed the administration for answers on the extent of the power of the executive branch in this instance.
“The commander in chief does, of course, have the power to protect Americans from imminent attack, and nothing in this legislation interferes with that power,” Cruz said.
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Paul has since ended his delaying tactics, allowing for the Senate to move on Brennan’s confirmation.
Moreover, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who had cautiously sought to clarify to Paul whether the president could call the shots on when an American should be killed, has since said the president doesn’t have the authority to use drones to kill Americans who are noncombatants on U.S. soil.
“The answer to that question is no,” Holder wrote.
John Pike, a national security expert at GlobalSecurity.org, said the domestic use of lethal force from drones is “extremely hypothetical” because it “very difficult to imagine scenarios in which they would be the preferred instrument.”
“The Coast Guard has helicopters with machine guns that fly around D.C. and up and down the Potomac River to guard against terrorists and they would certainly shoot to kill if needed,” he explained. “I don’t see how a drone would be different from these helicopters.”