The Slatest

Obama Tries to Ease Democrats’ Drone Fears By Telling Them He’s No Dick Cheney

President Barack Obama leaves the U.S. Capitol after a meeting with the House Republican Conference March 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Congressional intelligence committees got a look at the Obama administration’s drone strike-justifying legal memos earlier this year only after they threatened to hold up the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan. Lawmakers without a seat on one of those powerful panels, however, are still waiting to set eyes on the Justice Department documents. Understandably, quite a few aren’t exactly happy about that, something Sen. Jay Rockefeller took the opportunity to point out to President Obama during his closed-door meetings on the Hill yesterday. The president’s answer probably didn’t reassure them quite as much as he hoped. Here’s Politico with the details:

In response to Rockefeller’s critique, Obama said he’s not involved in drafting such memos, the senators told POLITICO. He also tried to assure his former colleagues that his administration is more open to oversight than that of President George W. Bush, whom many Democratic senators attacked for secrecy and for expanding executive power in the national security realm.

“This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” he said, according to Democratic senators who asked not to be named discussing the private meeting. … The president noted that he would have “probably objected” over the White House’s handling of this issue if he were still a senator, they said. But, according to the sources, he noted his viewpoint changed now that he occupies the Oval Office — not a room in a Senate office building.

As headline-ready as the Dick Cheney-mentioning quote is, it’s important to remember it’s coming second hand (Obama to the senators to the reporter), greatly increasing the chances that it’s not a word-for-word quote. Rockefeller and the White House declined to comment on the exchange, but Politico cites two senators—unnamed as they may be—confirming its authenticity, suggesting that at the least the quote is a fairly accurate paraphrase of what the president said.

(Of course, it’s worth noting that it was only yesterday that another lawmaker, GOP Rep. John Carter, either misunderstood what Obama said about the proposed Keystone pipeline in a similar closed-door meeting, or was misunderstood by the Buzzfeed reporter he spoke to afterward.)

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***