Rand Paul uses 2016 bully pulpit to push Obama on drones

President Obama Thursday gave a sweeping national security speech outlining his approach to fighting global terrorism, the legality of his administration's use of unmanned aircraft to hunt and kill suspected terrorists, and his desire to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The speech was an hour long and in the middle of it were two sentences aimed squarely at one of his critics: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

"For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen - with a drone, or a shotgun - without due process," Mr. Obama said. "Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil."

Rand Paul's filibuster: What you may have missed

Back in March, Paul led a 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor over just this issue. His concern was that the Obama administration was setting a precedent that the federal government could order the killing of American citizens on U.S. soil without first convicting them in court. Indeed, this week Attorney General Eric Holder officially confirmed that four U.S. citizens, including terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, had been killed in overseas drone strikes. In his speech Thursday, the president justified these killings by asserting that "when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America...his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team."

The president's remarks illustrate how effectively Paul is using his position as a conservative star and possible presidential candidate to further his favorite issues. Most 2016 contenders demur when asked about their political ambitions (See Jeb Bush). Many try to fly under the radar of the national press completely (See Andrew Cuomo). Not Rand Paul. At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor last month, Paul admitted he was considering a run - and added that just thinking about it served a purpose.

"You know, I want to be part of the national debate," he said. "So whether I run or not, being considered is something that allows me to have I think a larger microphone."

Paul holds many of the libertarian views that made his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a Republican presidential also-ran with a loyal following. But Rand Paul has tried to appeal to a larger swath of voters. He has spoken about the need for inclusiveness in the Republican Party and has distanced himself from some of his father's positions on issues like drug legalization.

On drones, Paul may have found a sweet spot. An April CBS News/New York Times pollfound seven in 10 Americans favor using drones to attack suspected terrorists abroad, including large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. However, a March Gallup poll found just over half - 52 percent - opposed using airstrikes against U.S. citizens who are suspected terrorists living abroad. And 79 percent opposed airstrikes within the U.S. against citizens who are suspected terrorists. The issue is not likely to be a top-tier concern in either the 2014 midterm or 2016 presidential elections. But it is a top-tier issue for the Kentucky senator and he used his stature to raise awareness among Americans and demand a response from the president. And after Mr. Obama's speech, Paul hinted he wasn't finished.

"I'm glad the President finally acknowledged that American citizens deserve some form of due process," Paul said in a written statement. "But I still have concerns over whether flash cards and PowerPoint presentations represent due process; my preference would be to try accused U.S. citizens for treason in a court of law."

Paul was in New Hampshire this week to attend a Republican fundraiser. He reportedly made his own $10,000 donation to the New Hampshire Republican Party. His actions ensure that he will continue to receive attention from the national press, which in turn means he will continue to have a national outlet for discussing his top priorities. He's already gotten the attention of the president once.

Here's what else the 2016 contenders have been up to this week:

Vice President Joe Biden: Biden is a Kevin Durant fan. After the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball star donated $1 million to the Red Cross to help tornado victims, the Vice President's office tweeted that Biden called Durant personally to thank him. "You're not only a great athlete, you're a great humanitarian. On behalf of all of us, thank you for your generosity," Biden told Durant. On Wednesday, the Vice President delivered the commencement address at the US Coast Guard Academy.

Hillary Clinton: It pays to be a former first couple. CNN reported Thursday that financial disclosure documents show former President Clinton has earned $106 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House, including $17 million in 2012 alone. It's not known how much Mrs. Clinton commands for paid speeches, but she has been filling up her schedule since she stepped down as Secretary of State in January. This week NACS, the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, announced Clinton would headline their October conference in Atlanta.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.: Cuomo's office had a public spat this week with an influential New York columnist. In his Monday column for the New York Post, Fred Dicker wrote that Cuomo's chief of staff, Josh Vlasto, gave an exclusive story Dicker was working on to another media outlet. Vlasto retaliated by forwarding an email exchange between him and Dicker to a group of reporters.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.: On Wednesday, Hickenlooper issued an executive order granting convicted killer Nathan Dunlap a "temporary reprieve" from the death penalty. In the order, Hickenlooper cited ambivalence towards the death penalty as the reason for the reprieve. "It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives," Hickenlooper said. He added that his decision was "not out of compassion or sympathy for [Dunlap] or any other inmate sentenced to death." The Denver Post reported that some relatives of Dunlap's victims were angered by the move.

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.: The Garden State governor spent much of the week touting the Jersey Shore's recovery from superstorm Sandy ahead of Memorial Day weekend and the traditional start of the summer tourism season. He also expressed sympathy for the victims of this week's Oklahoma tornadoes and urged Congress to send them the aid they needed - despite the fact that Oklahoma's two senators voted against Sandy aid. "This is not a time for political retribution," Christie said at an event reopening a boardwalk along the Jersey Shore.  In re-election campaign news, Christie launched a new negative ad against his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah: The 2012 presidential candidate launched a new PAC this week as he contemplates his political future. Huntsman told Politico he's undecided about 2016, but his new "Red Rock PAC" will enable him to travel the country and speak to Americans.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: The National Review reported this week that the Wisconsin Congressman will write a book outlining his vision for America. The book will include his policy prescriptions, as well as insights into his childhood, rise in Congress, and role as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.: Walker had a busy travel schedule this week. On Monday and Tuesday, he attended Republican fundraisers in Connecticut and New York. And last night, he attended two fundraisers in Des Moines, IA. Walker has denied he's plotting a 2016 run and says he visited Iowa because he was invited by fellow Republican Governor Terry Brandstad.

  • Caroline Horn On Twitter»

    Caroline Horn is CBS News' senior producer for politics.

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