WASHINGTON — John Brennan took over Friday as director of the CIA, the finishing touch on President Barack Obama's national security team for his second term.
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden swore Brennan in during a private ceremony in the Roosevelt Room, the morning after he won Senate confirmation amid a contentious debate. Republicans had blocked his nomination but lifted their delay after the administration bowed to their requests for clarification about the president's power in using drones.
Last week Chuck Hagel won Senate confirmation to be defense secretary, joining Secretary of State John Kerry in Obama's revamped second-term lineup.
With Obama in attendance but media excluded, Brennan took the oath from Biden in the Roosevelt Room. Rather than swearing on a Bible, Brennan placed his hand on an original copy of the Constitution from 1787 that had George Washington's handwriting and annotations on it. He told Obama he requested the document from the archives because he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law, an administration official said.
The Brennan vote was 63-34 and came just hours after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, used an old-style filibuster of the nomination to extract an answer from the administration on the drone question.
Brennan won some GOP support. Thirteen Republicans voted with 49 Democrats and one independent to give Brennan, who has been Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, the top job at the nation's spy agency. He replaces 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.
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 held the floor for nearly 13 hours on 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 Paul.
"The answer to that question is no."
That cleared the way.
"We worked very hard on a constitutional question to get an answer from the president," Paul said after voting against Brennan. "It may have been a little harder than we wish it had been, but in the end I think it was a good healthy debate for the country to finally get an answer that the Fifth Amendment applies to all Americans."
However, Paul's filibuster of the Brennan nomination roiled the GOP, with Republican leader Mitch McConnell, libertarians and tea partyers rallying to the freshman senator's side and military hawks such as John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina arguing that Paul's claims were unfounded.
The government's drone program and its use in the fight against terrorists were at the heart of the dispute.
Though Paul held the Senate floor for the late-night filibuster, about a dozen of his colleagues who share his views came, too, to take turns speaking for him and trading questions. McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian who faces re-election next year, congratulated him for his "tenacity and for his conviction."
McConnell said in Senate remarks on Thursday, "The United States military no more has the right to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who is not a combatant with an armed, unmanned aerial vehicle than it does with an M-16."
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