Donald Trump likely expected significant opposition to his new nominee for CIA chief, Gina Haspel. But he probably didn’t expect that some of the most vocal opposition would come from fellow Republicans.
Over the past few days, Sen. Rand Paul (R.-KY) has become perhaps the most vocal opponent of Haspel’s nomination, where she would replace Mike Pompeo — himself nominated as secretary of state. Paul’s criticisms, perhaps unsurprisingly, have centered most especially on Haspel’s role in implementing the U.S.’s torture regime,
Haspel’s distinct, detailed history of involvement in the torture regime appears to be a bridge too far for Paul. On Wednesday, Paul condemned the pick. “I mean, how could you trust somebody who did that to be in charge of the CIA?,” he said.
Paul reiterated his opposition to Haspel’s nomination on Sunday — and even threatened to take his opposition beyond simply voicing criticism to reporters. In POLITICO, Paul wrote that it “remains true that Haspel ran a secret center in Thailand where prisoners were tortured. … I simply do not believe she should hold the post to which she has been nominated.” On Twitter, Paul added that he would “do whatever it takes” — including leading a potential filibuster — to prevent her ascension to CIA chief.
I’ll do whatever it takes, including filibuster, to stop the nomination of Gina Haspel. I urge @SenFeinstein to stand against her nomination too!
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 18, 2018
When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Paul to confirm that he’d be willing to filibuster Haspel’s nomination, the Kentucky senator was unequivocal — and is worth quoting in full:
I think that what America stands for is not torture. Torture is the hallmark of totalitarianism. We should be that hope for the rest of the world, that people who want to resist totalitarianism — they want to be free from torture, they don’t want to be free to torture. … I’ll do whatever it takes — and that includes filibuster. … It’s just inconsistent with who we are as a people to have someone run our spy agency that has all this enormous power who was intimately involved with torture, and from everything we’re reading was supportive of the policy. And so, no, I can’t support that — and I will do everything I can, including filibuster.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 18, 2018
Given that Sen. John McCain (R.-AZ) has already made noise about blocking Haspel’s nomination — which could, alongside the 49 Democrats in the Senate, prevent Haspel’s ascension — Paul’s willingness to filibuster her nomination could effectively torpedo her chances at becoming CIA chief. It wouldn’t prevent a Trump nominee from eventually filling the slot, but it could prevent someone who played an integral role in the U.S.’s torture regime from returning to a seat close to power.