John Yoo has President Obama's back, at least when it comes to Sen. Rand Paul's recent criticism of his drone policies. For a White House under fire from part of its liberal base, that's probably not a good thing.
The former Justice Department lawyer—best known as the author of the so-called torture memos that provided the legal justification for the use of what the George W. Bush administration dubbed "enhanced interrogation techniques"—came out against Paul yesterday in the wake of his epic Senate filibuster this week protesting the potential use of drones against Americans.
"I admire libertarians but I think Rand Paul's filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position," Yoo said on a conference call hosted by the Federalist Society. (I wasn't on it, but both Mother Jones and USA Today captured the pull-quotes.) Yoo, now a UC Berkeley law professor, added an Ayn Rand-themed slight for good measure: "It sort of reminds me of young kids when they first read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and they suddenly think that federal taxation equals slavery and they're not going to pay any federal taxes anymore."
The debate over drones has created a bizzaro (and somewhat refreshing) Washington, where traditional political alliances have frayed when it comes to this particular issue. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two outspoken Republican critics of the president, for example, were quick to come to Obama's defense yesterday, saying that Paul "cheapened" the debate by making "ridiculous" arguments during his filibuster, which was aided in part by a handful of their GOP colleagues, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Yoo's views on targeted killings (which, to be clear, don't align flush with those of the Obama administration) aren't exactly a surprise given the positions he's already staked out in the war on terror. Still, the White House probably would have preferred that the former Bush lawyer stay on the sidelines for this fight. He's obviously not a fan favorite among many of the liberals who have found themselves in the unusual position this week of siding with a Tea Party favorite and against a president they helped elect for a second time this past year. The addition of Yoo to the equation only complicates things even more.
This post was updated at 12:42 p.m. with additional information for the sake of clarity.