(USA Today)-- WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. Rand Paul engaged in a cheap political stunt when he delivered a 13-hour floor speech suggesting President Obama might use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil, two of Paul's Republican colleagues said Thursday.
Paul, from Kentucky, made his comments as part of a filibuster designed to stall a confirmation vote on Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. Paul voiced concerns that the nation's policy of using armed, unmanned aircraft to kill foreign terrorists abroad could be used to target Americans at home.
His filibuster drew late-night accolades Wednesday from conservatives who backed his demand that Obama directly deny he would use drones that way.
But Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona teamed up the following morning to denounce Paul's allegations and defend Obama's policies.
"This president is not going to use a drone against a non-combatant sitting in a cafe anywhere in the United States, nor will future presidents," said Graham, a military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve. "Because if they do, they will have committed an act of murder."
Graham called Paul's demands "offensive" and said he had "cheapened" the debate on drones.
McCain said Paul's concerns were "totally unfounded."
"To somehow allege or infer that the president of the United States is going to kill somebody ... who disagrees with the policies is a stretch of imagination which is, frankly, ridiculous," McCain said.
Events moved quickly over the course of the day: Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a two-sentence letter to Paul saying Obama does not have authority to use a drone to kill an American not engaged in combat against the United States. Paul agreed to stop stalling Brennan's confirmation vote. Graham decided to switch his position on Brennan and vote to confirm him.
Brennan, who oversaw the drone program as Obama's counterterrorism adviser, was confirmed 63-34.
The Graham-McCain colloquy exposed a rift within the Republican caucus. On one side are party members who fear the administration will misuse its power in fighting the war on terror. On the other are those who support the White House's secretive use of drones in the war.
"To my Republican colleagues, I don't remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone," Graham said. "They had a drone program back then. All of a sudden, this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up. What are we up to here?"
Among those who joined Paul during his filibuster were Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Cruz asked during the filibuster whether there was any precedent "for the proposition that this administration seems willing to embrace, or at least unwilling to renounce explicitly and emphatically, that the Constitution somehow permits, or at least does not foreclose on, the U.S. government killing a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who is not flying a plane into a building, who is not robbing a bank, who is not pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon, but who is simply sitting quietly at a cafe, peaceably enjoying breakfast?"
Since the 9/11 attacks, American presidents have had the power to use military force against al-Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates - and to treat as enemy combatants Americans who align with them.
Graham said Obama, whose administration has made extensive use of drones in Afghanistan and Yemen, has "the good judgment to understand we're at war."
"To my party, I'm a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we're at war," Graham said.