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. darknesscrown

    "Like it or not, the day is coming, not today or tomorrow and probably not this year but the day is coming when Americans are going to be forced to choose between our government or our country. I for one will stand for my country and fight any foe abroad or domestic. That includes a government from within that has lost it's way and anyone that stands with it." - As a servicemember, I will gladly make quick work of you idiots when you try to overthrow society by doing my part to put you in the ground. Cheers.

    March 6, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  2. dervish

    I think we might be witnessing the American Spring!

    March 6, 2013 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  3. liberal&proud

    Good for Rand Paul! it takes guts to stand up against a system that is oppressing us all. who knows, if we can eliminate all the right wing "faith-based initiatives" and stop telling women what to do with their bodies and we lefties could agree to cut all government salaries by about half and quit telling the rw what to do with their guns then maybe we could have a broad based American initiative in 2016.

    March 6, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  4. chefmikes

    #standwithrand is blowing up the twitterverse. I am not a fan of Rand Paul and really hate his terrible wig, but I gotta stand with him on this issue. Liberty is not Dem or Rep.

    March 6, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  5. Pragmatic

    Let me get this straight, we are concerned about an extreme case where a decision might have to be made to use a drone strike on American soil, but are not worried about an F-22 or F-18 shooting a missile on American soil or shooting down a commercial passenger plane that has been hijacked. Does anyone of these "the government is out to get us" buffoons have an ounce of common sense. I didn't think wackos read or listened to the mouthpiece of the left (CNN), but I guess they are keeping tabs on what the "enemy" is planning..

    March 6, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  6. M0KI

    It is truly a shame that so many of you on here view this as a right/left issue: it's not. It's really quite simple: do you trust your government to the extent that you will give up such a fundamental right as due process? No wonder this country is in so much frigging trouble. It's over.

    March 6, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  7. ironman59

    To begin with this clown is not a libertarian, he is a theocrat and isolationist. More to the point he is a total wack job. The incident that did occur was of someone declared an enemy combatant, on foreign soil, working to attack American forces. At no point has there been a policy to target the average citizen on home soil.

    This is just more grandstanding and a waste of money. The gop continues to drag out every nomination hearing to wave their arms in feign disapproval. Truth is they don't care, they simply want to show that they can muck up the process and grind the government to a hault. It is what they have done for the last 6 years.

    March 6, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  8. Jay

    Just to be clear, Ron Paul protested such things as the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq Invasion, the insanity of torture programs, or housing subsidies leading to the bubble a great deal. Nary a peep from Democrats on these subjects at a time when it could have mattered. Don't point fingers on partisanship, D and R are equally guilty for what has become of our natural rights. Individual merit is what political judgement should be based on.

    March 6, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  9. JR

    What seems to be missing is an understanding that this "terrorist" title legally removes any responsibility from our government. With the Patriot Act and subsequent "terrorist" legal revisions our Constitutional Rights are being challenged regularly. It is time to push back against a government that would usurp our rights . Whether you like a politician or not, I see a trend in disrespect for anything or one that is not somehow connected to the elite corporate or government structure. And the two have become almost indistinguishable with a complete lack of respect for the common American. It is definitively bordering on tyranny.

    March 6, 2013 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  10. Dave

    Apples don't fall far from the tree!!!!!

    March 6, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    Rand Paul–An American Hero.

    March 6, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  12. josh44

    Why are we surprised? He always talks, talks & talks some more. I hope he does not get re-elected. May be go the way of Joe Walsh–another nutcase! His father must be embarrassed by him.

    March 6, 2013 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  13. Chuck Petersen

    Guess liberals really don't care if Obama usurps power to target American citizens on our own soil. Don't worry about it....

    March 6, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  14. RanLo

    Go Rand Paul...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 6, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  15. poopyonastickmakesmesick

    Thank God we have people like Rand Paul in DC. It doesn't matter that Obama using a drone to kill a citizen on US soil is "unlikely". A president should not have that singular power. It is a shame that CNN does not make a bigger deal of this story- Obama Army out in force.

    March 6, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  16. cory

    Do you see or hear this issue on the Network News? Nope – out to lunch. They have lost their spine and might as well quit. The White House will never say "No" this won't happen! Can you imagine the hysterics if GW tried to do this? The WH hasn't answered any questions because they are :investigating", Then when a drone attack happens on US soil, they will say, "What difference does it make?". Makes me sick......smoke more dope you slackers....

    March 6, 2013 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  17. markiejoe

    I wish that camera in the live feed would show the entire empty chamber. The way it is, It looks like they actually have an audience, when in reality nobody in the world is listening to them.

    March 6, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  18. 66Biker

    Oh, please... Like Father, Like Son. Somebody get this fool a "I'm talking and I can't shut up" T-Shirt.

    March 6, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  19. Patriot

    Rand Paul is a lying crook who should be in jail not the U.S. senate. He has never served his country only his own gains. He is an anarchist at heart. Anyone who supports him is un-American.

    March 6, 2013 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  20. ea

    This country's liberty and freedom is hanging on by a thread. Thanks to Obama and Bush.

    March 6, 2013 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  21. Chuck1991

    Do any of you bashing Paul have the slightest clue as to what he is fighting against? We are losing our right to due process!

    March 6, 2013 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  22. ea

    The majority of Americans could careless if Obama went and shot somebody in the street. They would still vote for him. This is what happens to countries when you give certain people the rights to vote.

    March 6, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  23. macphisto96

    Good for Rand Paul – and Ron Wyden, a Democrat, supports him too. A lot on the other side would have been all over this had Bush done this. We need to not play politics on this issue. Drone strikes against US citizens on US soil is a problem and we can't get an answer from the White House. Republican or Democrat, we need an answer on this based on what his Justice Department has told us.

    March 6, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  24. stephen48739

    Rand Paul's rant is giving aid and comfort to our enemies. Did the victims of the 911 attack have any "due process" before they were executed? No.

    March 6, 2013 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  25. idiots know no bounds

    Rand Paul is an idiot. He'd rather protect criminals than his country, its citizens, and its soldiers.

    March 7, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
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