Rand Paul's #filiblizzard filibuster
March 6th, 2013
11:59 PM ET
2 years ago

Rand Paul's #filiblizzard filibuster

(CNN) - Sen. Rand Paul ended his day-long filibuster at 12:38 a.m. Thursday, almost 13 hours after he began speaking. The Kentucky Republican tried to stall a confirmation vote on CIA Director nominee John Brennan.

He took to the Senate floor at 11:47 a.m. ET.


And as a snow storm swirled outside Wednesday in the nation's capital, Paul started his own Twitter hash tag that encapsulated his hours-long stand-off on Capitol Hill: #filiblizzard.

The Kentucky senator, known for his libertarian leanings, has sharply questioned the Obama administration's use of drones against American citizens overseas and vowed to speak Wednesday until he received more answers from the government about its policies. Brennan is considered one of the main architects of the drone program.

Paul in particular wants to know whether the government believes it has the authority to carry out drone attacks against American citizens on U.S. soil. He took issue with Attorney General Eric Holder's recent admission, in which he said he could envision a scenario where a drone strike would, in fact, be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil.

While Holder said it's never been done before and he could only see it in an extraordinary circumstance, Paul said he's disturbed by the idea that an American citizen would lose his or her rights while within the country's borders.

"I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA," Paul said. "I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes."

Wearing a dark grey suit and a red tie, Paul detailed his argument, staring intently at the Senate leaders presiding over the floor. The first-term senator stood with a thick binder full of notes in front of him–but he rarely looked at them.

Paul, who hasn't ruled out a 2016 presidential bid, said he doesn't consider President Barack Obama is a "bad person," but he said the president is also "not a judge."

"He's a politician," Paul said. "He was elected by a majority, but the majority doesn't get to decide who we execute. We have a process for deciding this. We have courts for deciding this, to allow one man to accuse you in secret, you never get notified you have been accused."

He continued: "Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone as it flies overhead in the seconds before you're killed."

Holder narrowed the list of those possible extraordinary circumstances Wednesday. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pressed Holder whether he believed it would be constitutional to target an American terror suspect "sitting at a cafe" if the suspect didn't pose an imminent threat.

After first saying it would be "inappropriate," Holder attempted to clarify his answer by giving a firm "no."

But he also said the government has no intention of carrying out drone strikes inside the United States. Echoing what he said in a letter to Paul, he called the possibility of domestic drone strikes "entirely hypothetical."

Paul, who was elected in 2010 with wide tea party support, said he understands that due process doesn't apply to combat zones overseas.

"But when people say, 'Oh, the battlefield's come to America' and 'the battlefield's everywhere,' 'the war is limitless in time and scope,' be worried, because your rights will not exist if you call America a battlefield for all time," the senator said.

The term filibuster–which originates from a Dutch word meaning "pirate"–caught fire in the 1850s when it became a popular method to hold up a bill or vote on the Senate floor.

Nearly seven hours in, Paul's filibuster is hardly a record. In the 1930s, Sen. Huey Long from Louisiana was known for reciting Shakespeare and reading recipes on the Senate floor when he filibustered. He once held the floor for 15 hours.

Former Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina holds the record. He famously filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

In recent history, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held the floor in 2010–though technically not through a filibuster–to protest a tax-cut deal for eight hours and 37 minutes.

Three hours in, Paul showed little signs of fatigue. He frequently shifted weight from one leg to the other and rested his hands on the desk from time to time. But a full glass of water sat untouched in front of him, and Paul rarely let go of his eye contact with his Senate colleagues.

After about six hours, however, Paul's level of fervor began to fade. The pace of his speech slowed down and he read more often from notes. Around 6:15 p.m. ET, he chowed down a snack in between sentences, talking with his mouth full.

For most of the time, Paul squarely placed blame on the president for what he perceived a dangerous precedent in federal law. The Kentucky senator was quick to make comparisons between President Obama and candidate Obama.

"I think it's also safe to say that Barack Obama of 2007 would be right down here with me arguing against this drone strike program if he were in the Senate," he said. "It amazes and disappoints me how much he has actually changed from what he once stood for."

Obama said there's something "contagious" about the office of presidency and cited the famous quote by John Dalberg-Acton.

"It's not just power corrupts, but that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'," Paul said. "I think people can become intoxicated with power. I don't know if that's the explanation for President Obama's about-face. He was one, when he was in this body believed, in some restraint."

But Paul did not endure the filibuster by himself. At three hours and 10 minutes, he began sharing his time with other Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Thune of South Dakota, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who each weighed in with questions and their own commentary.

"I would note that your standing here today like a modern Mr. Smith Goes to Washington must surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile," Cruz said to Paul. His appearance represented his first time to speak on the Senate floor. "And my only regret is that there are not 99 of your colleagues here today standing with you."

Cruz noted that Wednesday marked the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. Comparing the fight to Paul's effort on the Senate floor, Cruz said "Texans are proud" to see Paul (a native Texan) standing up "for liberty."

He then read a famous letter–perhaps in a move to kill time–from William Barret Travis in 1836, asking for more back-up at the Alamo.

Cruz, talking to Paul, said he hopes the "glorious letter give(s) you encouragement and sustenance on this 177th anniversary on the Alamo."

At just over four hours, the filibuster took an interesting twist when a Democratic senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, came to the floor to assist and make the stand-off a bipartisan effort.

It's important to note that the drone controversy is one of the few issues where the far right and the far left sync up. While Wyden said he wants to make his point about the targeted killing of Americans by drones, he said he will still vote for Brennan at the end of the day. He did so in the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"Senator Paul and I agree that this nomination also provides a very important opportunity for the United States Senate to consider the government's rules and policies on the targeted killings of Americans," he said.

At just around five hours into the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came to the floor to gauge whether or not the Senate could hold a vote on Brennan Wednesday night.

He tried to limit the remaining time for debate to 90 minutes, but Paul objected, saying he wants answers from Holder that clarify his remarks on drones Wednesday morning.

Reid said he can't speak for the administration and canceled his request, meaning there would be no full vote on Brennan Wednesday.

The filibuster had its light-hearted moments, as well. When Rubio stepped up to join the filibuster, he had some words of wisdom for Paul.

"I know you've been here awhile. Let me give you some advice - keep some water nearby. Trust me," Rubio joked, poking fun at his now-famous sip of water during the middle of his Republican response to the president's State of the Union address last month.

Around 7:30 p.m. ET, Cruz returned to the floor to read aloud tweets about Paul's filibuster.

"I think the technical term for what the Twitterverse is doing right now is called 'blowing up'," Cruz said, highlighting the slogan–"Stand with Rand"–that's spreading online.

In the ninth hour, Lee again took over the spotlight so Paul could have a break. While the senator from Utah was speaking, Paul chatted with House members and paced back and forth in between the Senate desks. Since beginning the talking filibuster shortly before noon, he has not sat down or taken a bathroom break.

Well into the 11th hour, Rubio returned and at one point started quoting the musical artist Jay-Z.

A short time later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the floor to express his support for the effort.

"At whatever point we get to a cloture vote to extend debate on the nomination of Brennan, it is my view that cloture should not be invoked. This is a controversial nominee. Should cloture be invoked, I intend to oppose the nomination and congratulate my colleague from Kentucky for this extraordinary effort," McConnell said.

And with midnight quickly approaching, Paul’s support from his colleagues only seemed to be intensifying. Republican members of Congress began gathering in the Senate chamber in solidarity. And at 11:47 pm Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted an all-call to Republican senators who weren't already on the floor:

Paul continued to talk so he wouldn’t have to relinquish the floor, but he did not have to stay on the floor to keep his filibuster going. Although he was drawing attention to his objections to the administration's drone policy, senators are not required to be on the floor to block a vote, unlike previous times.

So what would have happened if Paul had kept going?

At some point, Reid was expected to make a parliamentary move that would start the clock ticking for a vote to break the filibuster. Sixty votes would have been needed to break the filibuster, and as Paul himself has acknowledged, he didn’t have the votes to succeed.

After that procedural vote to break the filibuster, Paul still could have dragged things out—-the rule allows an additional 30 hours of debate–into the weekend, before there would be a final vote to confirm Brennan.

But, Paul instead yielded the floor early Thursday morning, allowing Senator Dick Durbin to file cloture to end debate on Brennan’s nomination.

– CNN's Terry Frieden, Dana Bash, Rachel Streitfeld and Alison Harding contributed to this report.


Filed under: John Brennan • President Obama • Rand Paul • Senate
soundoff (290 Responses)
  1. Martha in CF

    Another redumblican/tea partier who likes to hear himself talk. How does it feel to have so many NOT in the chamber listening to you spewing over from the mouth? Obstructionist plain and simple....

    March 6, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  2. Former Republican, now an Independent

    Rand Paul never speaks without demonstrating his stupidity. If Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush are the best the republicans have for 2016 presidential candidates, they would be better off running Harpo, Chico and Groucho Marx.

    March 6, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  3. illinidiva

    So basically you guys are okay with providing Obama the legal authority to unilaterally kill Americans. You aren't in anyway concerned about this. I think that Rand Paul is providing a service by at least getting people to talk about it.

    March 6, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  4. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Yeah, but you gotta give the kid credit for actually doing the song and dance routine instead of just threatening a cloture vote. Maybe one of these days Mitch McConnell will be able to sit him down and explain what his job actually is and is not, and why guys like he and Ted Cruz need to learn why we were given two ears but only one mouth.

    March 6, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    ... Paul is particularly upset about Attorney General Eric Holder's recent admission, in which he said he could envision a scenario where a drone strike would, in fact, be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil.
    ---------------
    If he's so worried about the government targeting and killing US citizens, then where was all of his concern when they recently targeted and killed that guy who had kidnapped the little boy and hid out in an underground bunker? Where was the faux indignation and false outrage then, Senator?

    March 6, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  6. Lynda/Minnesota

    To be perfectly clear: I do not envision this man ever becoming President of the United States. Nor do I care what he does... what he says... or what he thinks. I will suggest he might want to work on his ego issues. He's neither an inspiration nor a credible Senator.

    Beyond that ... please proceed, Mr. Rand.

    Knock yourself out for all I care.

    March 6, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. msjt

    rp you are a idiot plain and simple you have nothing better to do than obstruct God Don't Like Ugly and you are real ugly everytime you open you piehole. so shut up

    March 6, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  8. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    They should use a drone on Paul so the American people don't have to listen to his gop idiotic big mouth ,forget about ever being president you moron, just like your father ,gop goof !!!!

    March 6, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Sixty years ago, the Republican had just one problem child, Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-WI. He was ensnared by his own ego and politically destroyed. Today it seems like it is almost the entire Republican Party that wants to follow that same path.

    March 6, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  10. Really Now?

    Do we really want to do away with due process of law? Do we really want to let the majority have the right to execute an individual through the power of an elected official? Is this what our country is coming to? It sickens me more that there are so few that are outraged by this than by the fact that those in power would try it.

    March 6, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  11. major

    I'm VERY proud to see one of my Senators standing up for something that is right against those who are, perhaps without meaning to do so, threatening the very fabric of our liberties. Obama is NOT a judge, jury and executioner, and this kind of abuse of power must be stopped NOW.

    March 6, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  12. major

    Ted Cruz was right that somewhere, "Mr. Smith" himself, Jimmy Stewart must be smiling.

    March 6, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  13. sonny chapman

    Hey Sen. Paul, the difference between being a US Senator & Prez is that one is Commander In Chief. Obama has got to check his "wish the world wasn't so bad" mantra for , I've got a job to do; protecting the American people. It's not his SOLE Job as Prez, but it is important.

    March 6, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  14. Going John Galt

    Rudy NYC, I am struggling to remember which branch of the military killed the guy in the bunker. Was it the 3rd MID or perhaps the air force? Oh, that's right. It was law enforcement that did that, not the military. Posse Comitatus....educate yourself and look that up.

    March 6, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  15. Just An Average Guy

    I live in Kentucky and have to be embarrased by Rand Paul's representation. Need I mention that I also have Mitch McConnell to deal with? Please excuse us hillbillies.

    March 6, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  16. Name lynn

    Obama chewing soul food, what kind of food is the GOP chewing on, obama have time to chew food an the gop have time to choke on their food. Its all good food.

    March 6, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  17. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    All the teaparty garbage of America ,the peewee Herman look a like Cruz ,Paul and the rest of the gop house, drone strikes anybody????

    March 6, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  18. John

    Just another Tea Party nut case!

    March 6, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  19. Bob

    A fake eye doctor.... who cares what that pipsqueek says?

    March 6, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  20. Alec

    I think Paul belives what he is doing....
    but i believe that most people if asked the question this way...

    "If we had a chance to put a bomb into a house in tampa of someone we knew was about to launch a terror attack on Orlando Int AirPort, but he was an American....would you be ok with it?"

    Most people, would be like...ya, bomb them, kill them before they kill others.

    March 6, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  21. Ty

    i agree with everyone commenting here. kill innocent people with drones. all day.

    March 6, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. Mike Mann

    Can the National Guard kill people in the United States? The answer is yes and they have!! Why pick on drones?
    Gee do you think this is just a stunt?

    March 6, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    Isn't this the same guy who once suggested that racism and bigotry is a form of freedom of speech? Yup, it's him, alright.

    March 6, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. Jay

    Rudy NYC – The bunker guy was an immediate threat to the child and law enforcement. If you can't see the difference, you must be blind.

    March 6, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  25. anoel2005

    Obama's the same man who said it was OK for the New Black Panthers to stand outside a polling station with billy clubs.

    I , for one, don't trust Obama's judgement on who should be droned to death.

    March 6, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
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