Something odd happened Monday. An Obama administration official delivered a major speech outlining the president’s position on a national topic that has been the subject of intense debate. Yet the Republican field was largely silent.
Why? Because when it comes to allowing a group of government officials to decide to target accused terrorists with lethal stikes — a death panel, if you will — President Barack Obama and Republican candidates are largely on the same page.
As Attorney General Eric Holder laid out in a speech in Chicago, the Obama administration believes that U.S. citizens can be targeted for killing under certain circumstances and that an executive branch review of the evidence against a subject of targeted killing counts as due process under the Constitution.
While most of the Republican candidates haven’t gone into great detail about the legal reasoning behind their views on executive power, two Republican presidential candidates still in the race — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — are on the record in support of targeted killing. Ron Paul is a definite “no,” while Rick Santorum didn’t answer the New York Times survey. Santorum’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
While the Obama administration’s views of executive power have understandably upset civil libertarians, Democrats don’t see a downside to Obama being seen as too tough on suspected terrorists.
“I think the Republicans are in a box on this one,” one Democratic strategist told TPM. “The president has been not only ruthless but also smart and effective in going after terrorists and has balanced national security with the rule of law in a way that his predecessor didn’t.”
Others saw the criticism from the left as a sign that the administration was striking the right balance.
“For 3 years the right has said Holder is giving [Constitutional] rights to terrorists,” former Holder spokesman Matthew Miller wrote on Twitter. “Now the left says he is assassinating them [without] due process. Huh.”
While Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First said that taking a strong position on targeted killings was largely a political winner for the Obama administration, the fact that the administration can kill U.S. citizens it declares are terrorists without providing any public evidence should concern people on all sides of the aisle.
“As long as you label them terrorists, people aren’t that concerned what happens to them,” Eviatar told TPM. “But there’s a principle at stake: that the United States shouldn’t be going around killing people simply because we suspect they might be doing something wrong.”