Brennan Welcomes ‘Discussion’ About Drones, Defends Policy on Strikes

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  February 8, 2013 at 9:02 AM EDT

John Brennan; photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters hold signs as John Brennan arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing Thursday. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As President Obama’s choice to be the next director of the CIA, John Brennan faced tough questions Thursday at his confirmation hearing from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee frustrated with the administration’s approach to fighting terrorism.

And lawmakers weren’t the only ones troubled by aspects of the administration’s terror-fighting strategy. Brennan was repeatedly interrupted during his opening statement by protesters voicing their displeasure with the administration’s targeted killing of American citizens abroad suspected of joining al-Qaida.

Brennan said he supported “public discussion” of the administration’s efforts, but at the same time he gave a staunch defense of the use of drone strikes.

“We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there is no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat,” Brennan said. “So we need to make sure that there’s an understanding. And the people that were standing up here today, I think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony that we go through to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths.”


Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., asked Brennan to square comments he made in 2007 that harsh interrogation methods had “saved lives” with other statements that the CIA should not be in the “detention business.”

“I clearly had the impression, as you said, when I was quoted in 2007 that there was valuable intelligence that came out from those interrogation sessions. That’s why I did say that they saved lives,” Brennan responded.

But Brennan added that a recently completed intelligence committee report that found enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective “raises serious questions about the information that I was given at the time and the impression I had at that time.”

“Now I have to determine what — based on that information as well as what CIA says what the truth is. And at this point, senator, I do not know what the truth is,” Brennan said.

Senators also pressed Brennan on issues such as waterboarding and national security leaks. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reported on the hearing Thursday. You can watch the segment here or below:


As of Thursday Brennan’s confirmation appeared likely, despite the close examination of his record and administration policies. If installed as director, the tough questions will most certainly continue for Brennan, as lawmakers continue their push for greater oversight of the administration’s terror-fighting practices.

LINE ITEMS

  • Mr. Obama rallied House Democrats Thursday at their retreat. Several reports describe the mood among members as excited, even though they are in the minority. Mr. Obama promised the group that he will confront Republicans on his plans to close tax loopholes and end other tax breaks. “[I]f that’s an argument that they want to have before the court of public opinion, that is an argument I am more than willing to engage in,” he said.

  • Vice President Biden says the administration will “wait and see” what the Senate proposes before pushing for same-sex couples to be included in immigration reform.

  • Time’s Jay Newton-Small goes through New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s rough week.

  • The House Ethics Committee is probing Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., on unrelated matters.

  • TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro notices that “The Expendables” are on opposite sides of the gun control debate.

  • Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad lays out the “blood feud” between former Rep. Joe Baca and the woman who ousted him in a 2012 primary, freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod. As the old hand looks to make a comeback, expect a grudge match between the two California Democrats.

  • Former Mitt Romney aide and Massachusetts state Rep. Dan Winslow became the first Republican to throw his hat in the ring for the Bay State’s Senate special senate election. “This is a heavy lift. I’m going to give this race everything I’ve got,” Winslow said Thursday in an interview with Michael Levenson of the Boston Globe.

  • The new PAC from former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly will air a television spot on gun control “on the eve of the State of Union,” they wrote supporters in a fundraising appeal Thursday. The ad will urge Congress to “act immediately.”

  • Troopers at the state Capitol in Georgia will start carrying military-style assault weapons.

  • Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is all systems go to run for retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat.

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will help House Republicans raise money next month.

  • Because we have to: Yes, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., lead the field for the 2016 Iowa caucuses. Spoiler alert: You’ll see this same poll at least another 20 times before things get really interesting.

  • Mark your calendar for March 14. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will make an announcement about his political future. The Republican bowed out of the GOP primary against conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli but has hinted he may run as an independent.

  • Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, fired spokesman Phil Hardy for tweeting, “Me likey Broke Girls,” under Labrador’s name. The tweet was deleted after 14 seconds.

  • The Washington Press Club Foundation’s 69th annual Congressional Dinner will be shown on C-Span on Saturday at 8:20 p.m. Here’s the Heard on the Hill summary.

  • In a piece for The New Republic, Marin Cogan [admits] that (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112332/how-tell-members-congress-apart#) reporters sometimes can’t tell members of Congress apart.

  • Chris Cillizza is compiling a list of the best state-based political blogs.

  • Washington journalist Lizzie O’Leary opens up about her battle with endometriosis.

  • Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is about diet supplements.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Politics production assistant Alex Bruns profiles Sen. Mo Cowan, the newly sworn in appointee from Massachusetts.

  • And where are they now? Desk assistant Ibrahim Balkhy rounds up all the appointed senators of note. Take a stroll down memory lane.

  • Gwen Ifill talked with biographer Jeanne Theoharis about her book “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” a complex portrait of the woman best known for refusing to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955.

Watch that here or below.


  • Parks is also the subject of Gwen’s Take this week.

  • Ray Suarez wrote about the documents released by the Catholic Church in Los Angeles.

  • Paul Solman looks at youth unemployment.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz and desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.