Congress was for shifting America's armed drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon, until it wasn't. With two Western hostages dead due to an errant US drone strike in Pakistan, will lawmakers again alter course?
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., hopes so.
"I can understand, when it was a very small operation, why it would be done by the intelligence agencies, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years," he said on CNN. But the targeted-killing program, of which America's drone fleet is the workhorse, "has reached the point where it's an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one."
For that reason, McCain said he intends to use committee's 2016 defense authorization bill to codify something President Barack Obama once endorsed: Shifting control of the program to the military.
Exclusively? That's a fightin' word for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat. And Feinstein has plenty of experience in political fights.
All of this means Washington's Drone Wars have returned, right? Maybe. Or maybe not.
McCain over the years has made myriad promises to reporters. His batting average on those following through on those promises is probably lower than you think.
What's more, McCain and Feinstein clashed over this very issue just two years ago. Feinstein, primarily operating behind the scenes, won that round. But not before angering McCain and other members in favor of DoD drone control.
She and other advocates of maintaining a CIA-run drone program tucked into the classified annex of a massive government spending bill a provision keeping the program under the CIA.
McCain fumed. This is his chance to finally bring the program under the purview of the committee he finally chairs.
But Feinstein — and her staff — will be a formidable foe.
By keeping what McCain and others called a hidden provision in place, lawmakers essentially have endorsed Feinstein's stance.
"We've watched the intelligence aspect of the [CIA's] drone program: how they function. The quality of the intelligence. Watching the agency exercise patience and discretion," Feinstein told reporters in March 2013. "The military [drone] program has not done that nearly as well. That causes me concern. ... This is a discipline that is learned, that is carried out without infractions. It's not a hasty decision that's made. And I would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that way."
That's a powerful argument by a powerful senator.
Sure, there have been mistakes. But the overall success of the drone program seems to bolster Feinstein's argument.
The same is true of legal arguments in favor of keeping the targeted-killing effort under control of an intelligence community, where officials and lawmakers agree that matters of legality should remain vague.
The next round in Washington's Drone Wars will be a big test of McCain's power as chairman.