Senator Rand Paul is on his own again on a major national-security issue. And that’s exactly how he likes it.
The Kentucky Republican has offered an amendment that would declassify 28 blacked-out pages from the post-9/11 report on the attacks. It’s an amendment that exactly zero of his fellow Senate Republicans support.
Back in 2003, 46 senators signed a letter urging President George W. Bush to declassify the redacted pages in the joint congressional inquiry.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, the onetime chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and an author of the report, has said the pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 2001 attacks.
But today, more than a decade later, only a handful of Senate lawmakers are interested in pressing the issue. Of the original 46 senators, 12 remain in the Senate. Just two of those are publicly supportive of declassifying the 28 pages now.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is a co-sponsor to the Paul legislation, is one. And a spokesman for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who helped organize the 2003 letter, told The Daily Beast the senator remained supportive of efforts to declassify the pages. The offices of 10 original signatories did not return requests for comment.
Absent also are Paul’s Senate Republican colleagues: The office of Senator Mike Lee, a frequent Paul collaborator, declined to comment about whether he supported declassification. And normally sympathetic senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Enzi didn’t respond to a question about the 28 pages.
So with just a few supporters in the Senate—New York Democrat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is one—Paul’s amendment, attached to Congress’s annual defense bill, is a longshot at best. It is safe to say Paul will not get a vote and that the road ahead will be long and difficult for the stand-alone legislation he has proposed, which also would declassify the 28 pages.
Paul’s 28-pages stand, then, has left him largely isolated. It’s him against the world, a position the Kentucky senator finds himself in over and over again.
Among Republican senators, he flew essentially solo this month as he opposed the overhaul of the Patriot Act. During John Brennan’s 2013 nomination as head of Central Intelligence Agency, just a small group of senators joined Paul for a killer drone-related filibuster. Neither effort was successful—except to draw attention to his initatives.
It doesn’t help that a vocal proponent of declassification of the pages is Paul’s father, Ron Paul, the former congressman and three-time presidential candidate who is known for his isolationist foreign policy and desire to return to the gold standard. In August, the elder Paul appeared on the Money and Markets podcast and called the classification of the documents “shocking.” But, he said, “When you stop and think about it, shouldn’t we expect this from our government? Which is really sad.” He added: “It’s politically very risky to talk about it.” Later in the interview, Paul said “We don’t know the truth” about the JFK assassination “probe and commission.”
For better or for worse, Rand Paul has become the senator of lost causes.
The senator’s positions frequently put him in opposition to the vast majority of his party or the body of the Senate itself. The establishment Republican Party dislikes him for his heterodox views and sometimes prickly demeanor. Many capital-L Libertarians won’t fully accept him because he’s not a pure enough defender of their political faith. Democrats who agree with him on a trans-partisan issue like criminal-justice reform can’t fully support him, either, because of his Republican and libertarian leanings. He upsets everyone because he can’t be put in a box—which is both a blessing and a curse.
Paul only recently came across the issue of the classified 28 pages. He began to look into the matter after a January press conference by Representatives Walter Jones and Stephen Lynch, who are pressing the issue in the House, and former Senator Graham.
Convinced that declassification was necessary as a measure of government transparency, Paul read the classified 28 pages in early May of this year. Within a month, he championed legislation to make public the content of those pages. The odds are against him—but maybe that’s part of the core appeal.
Sharon Premoli, who survived the 9/11 attacks by escaping from the 80th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, is intimately involved in the push for declassification.
“It’s time for transparency about 9/11. It’s time to know the whole story. Fourteen years are enough,” she told The Daily Beast. “I absolutely believe that it is very important for all members of Congress to read the 28 pages, and for all Americans to know what is contained in those 28 pages.”
But even Premoli, a cheerleader for the legislation, is measured about how far Paul’s effort will go—in the short term.
“I know that it is not unusual for members of Congress to use [amendments] to raise the profile of issues, to have a platform,” she said. “I’m glad that a very outspoken member of the Senate has taken it on. He has raised its profile quite a bit. You can’t deny that.”
—with additional reporting by Olivia Nuzzi