Members of both parties cheered on Sen. Rand Paul Wednesday during his 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director to protest the Obama administration's drone policy. But Paul drew a smack-down from two influential fellow Republicans Thursday who called the Kentucky lawmaker's actions uninformed and irresponsible.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined each other on the floor of the Senate to blast Paul's diatribe against the drone program.
"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,” McCain said. “I don’t think what happened yesterday was helpful to the American people."
Graham portrayed Paul's views on the drone program as outside the mainstream of the Republican Party and praised Obama for defending it.
"To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war,” Graham said. “Not Sen. Paul, he’s a man to himself. He has a view that I don’t think is a Republican view."
It was a noteworthy rebuke to Paul coming just hours after his performance on the Senate floor drew broad praise from many lawmakers and stirred new talk of a potential 2016 presidential run.
"Attention all Republican US Senators -> Please go to the floor and help out Rand Paul," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted late Wednesday night.
At least 13 Republican senators and even one Democrat heeded the call, and joined Paul over the course of his filibuster. Some offered support, while others took an active part in helping him along. House members made the trip across the Capitol to stand with him on the Senate floor.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator who initially opposed Paul when he sought the GOP nomination in 2010, stopped by during Paul's final hours on the floor.
Paul's efforts quickly spread throughout online social networks; at one point the phrase "#StandWithRand" was one of the most popular phrases posted on Twitter worldwide.
Ultimately, Paul's intention was not to block Brennan's nomination, but to use his confirmation vote as an opportunity to highlight the Obama administration's belief that it could legally assassinate American citizens on U.S. soil without due process. To that end, he was successful.
In a letter sent to Paul before the filibuster, Attorney General Eric Holder held that while the practice of killing U.S. citizens domestically would theoretically be legal, Obama would use that power only under "extraordinary circumstances" and that he “has no intention” to do so.
In response, Paul repeatedly asked from the Senate floor if that meant the government could kill a citizen on American soil "not engaged in combat." Holder replied with a brief letter Thursday, saying "no."
But while Paul's filibuster earned him praise from many fellow Republicans, influential conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Democrats and liberal activist groups, the pushback from leading GOP lawmakers like McCain and Graham was noteworthy.
When asked to respond to McCain and Graham's criticism, Paul did not veer from his position.
"I don’t think the laws of war apply to America; I think the Bill of Rights do," Paul said on Fox News' "America Live" program. "And I think it’s a disservice to our soldiers that we have senators up there arguing that the Bill of Rights aren’t important."