The U.S. House should subpoena the Obama administration if it fails to provide the rules and justifications for its secretive drone program, according to Representative Kevin McCarthy, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican.
“This is a transparency issue,” McCarthy, of California, said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
So far, President Barack Obama’s administration has provided Congress with only part of its rationale for using drones to target and kill U.S. citizens identified as terrorists. The administration let the Senate intelligence panel see Justice Department documents on that subject to secure support for John Brennan’s confirmation last week to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Lawmakers from both parties are in a dispute with the Obama administration over its reluctance to provide legal justifications and ground rules for its use of drones to kill those suspected of ties to the al-Qaeda terror network.
McCarthy cited the House’s “responsibility” for intelligence programs as one of the reasons why lawmakers should subpoena the administration for the documents.
“How is somebody being able to make those decisions without a check and balance?” McCarthy said.
John Podesta, the chairman of the Center for American Progress and President Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, said the Obama administration is “wrong” to withhold the documents from Congress and the American people.
“Protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions,” Podesta, who has close ties to the White House, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece published March 13.
“In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days,” Podesta wrote.
Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the administration is struggling with how to provide the legal opinions and memoranda that govern the drone program.
The Obama administration also issued a terse statement last week saying the president doesn’t have the power to carry out targeted killings on “an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” Yet that letter from Holder -- meant to curb a 13-hour filibuster by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky - - had left many questions unanswered.
The execution of drone strikes killing alleged enemy combatants in countries including Pakistan and Yemen has been central to a borderless U.S. war against terrorism. Now, a growing number of U.S. law enforcement officials are asking to employ the unmanned aircraft to fight domestic crime.
“You’re going to start to see the emergence of a checks-and-balances caucus, and that there will be a lot of Democrats in it,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the only Democrat to join Paul and other Republicans in the talk-a-thon that delayed Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director.
“Regardless of which side you stand on the use of drones, I think there has to be greater transparency,” McCarthy, 48, said in the “Political Capital” interview.
While intelligence matters were part of a series of meetings Obama had on Capitol Hill with Democrats and Republicans this week, the dominating topic was the U.S. budget and efforts to reduce the deficit.
McCarthy expressed optimism that the House and Senate could find some accord on the budget. Still, he reiterated Republican resistance to raising revenue as part of any deal. Democrats insist that no agreement can happen without tax increases.
The budget blueprints for 2014 unveiled by the two chambers’ chief budget writers show how far apart the parties are on budget and policy matters.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, unveiled a tax-and-spending proposal that he said would eliminate the deficit within a decade by cutting $4.6 trillion out of a vast swath of federal expenditures.
His Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Patty Murray of Washington, put forth a budget that proposes $1.85 trillion in net deficit reduction by 2023, including $975 billion from revenue increases and $975 billion from spending reductions. The changes would reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion.
The Senate’s blueprint is the first it has produced in four years. While McCarthy acknowledged the differences between the two proposals, he said the Senate’s delivery of a document is “a good sign” and presents “good odds of doing something” in eventually finding common ground with the House.
Ryan’s plan would overhaul the tax code by dropping the top rate to 25 percent and collapsing the number of brackets to just two from the current seven, with the other rate set at 10 percent. It would finance those reductions by squeezing individual tax breaks, without identifying which ones would have to go.
McCarthy defended Ryan’s approach and refused to identify which tax breaks Republicans are willing to eliminate, though he said that doing away with the home mortgage and charitable deductions would be “pretty tough.”
“They’re tough, but I think you can look at the process,” he said, adding that Congress should debate them.
McCarthy, whose district is about 36 percent Hispanic, said that he would support a “legal status” for those who came to the U.S illegally only after the U.S. borders are secured.
“I’d let them get back, just like everybody else, but not give them any way upfront in line,” he said, adding that he supports guest-worker visas.
“I hear from the president, all he wants to do is create amnesty,” he said. “That will not happen, because what you do is you’re breaking down the rule of law.”