WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed John Brennan to be CIA director Thursday after the Obama administration bowed to demands from Republicans blocking the nomination and stated explicitly there are limits on the president’s power to use drones against U.S. terror suspects on American soil.
The vote was 63-34 and came just hours after Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, held the floor past midnight in an old-style filibuster of the nomination to extract an answer from the administration.
Still, Brennan won some GOP support. Thirteen Republicans voted with 49 Democrats and one independent to give Brennan, who has been President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, the top job at the nation’s spy agency.
He will replace Michael Morell, the CIA’s deputy director who has been acting director since David Petraeus resigned in November after acknowledging an affair with his biographer.
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The confirmation vote came moments after Democrats prevailed in a vote ending the filibuster, 81-16.
In a series of fast-moving events by Senate standards, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a one-paragraph letter to Paul, who had commanded the floor for nearly 13 hours Wednesday and into Thursday.
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” Holder wrote to Paul.
“The answer to that question is no.”
That cleared the way.
Michigan’s Levin won’t run again
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced Thursday he will not seek re-election in 2014, saying he wants to serve as Senate Armed Services chairman and an advocate for his home state of Michigan “without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.”
Levin, 78, was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and is the longest-serving senator in Michigan’s history. He said in a statement he struggled to make a decision along with his wife, Barbara, calling it “extremely difficult because I love representing the people of Michigan” and “fighting for the things that I believe are important for them.”
Levin is the sixth member of the Senate to announce his retirement, creating an open seat for Democrats in a state that has backed President Obama twice but where Republicans hold the governor’s office.
Democrats, who control 55 seats in the Senate, have to defend open seats in West Virginia, Iowa and New Jersey in the aftermath of three other retirements and will try to hold onto 21 seats in next year’s elections.
Levin had won re-election handily in recent years and was considered a safe bet to win in 2014.
Obama signs anti-violence act
President Obama, flanked by sexual-abuse survivors and lawmakers, signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, a measure that backs state efforts to combat rape and domestic assault and extends new protections to gays, lesbians and Native Americans.
First authorized in 1994, the bill provides $660 million over the next five years for programs that provide legal assistance, transitional housing, counseling and support hotlines to victims of rape and domestic abuse.