Rand Paul's #filiblizzard filibuster
March 6th, 2013
11:59 PM ET
1 year 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. Wilson

    jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    "They should use a drone on Paul ........."
    -------------------------------
    And the party of "hate" is?????
    The hypocrites continue to speak.

    March 6, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. Became_A_Republican_Today

    I voted twice for Obama because i thought he would protect civil liberties and do away with the Bush tactics such as warrantless wiretapping, denial of habeas corpus and due process of the law. Obama has failed miserable to do anything on this front differently from Bush. Further, Obama has expanded these practices that I so hated Bush for. Even worse, nobody on the left seems to care.

    For the first time in my life, I think I just became a Republican.

    March 6, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  3. mike

    GO RAND! End the wars, end the NDAA, end the patriot act!

    March 6, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. picnick

    Rand Paul is more progressive than the "progressives" on this issue.

    I'll vote for Rand Paul in 2016.

    He is vocally fighting against the military industrial complex.

    He quoted Hayek, and Eisenhower in his speech,.

    True Patriot. Rand Paul.

    March 6, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  5. shwnc

    Another former Republican, now an Independent Rand Paul is just a mouth with no supporting brain. I'm not opposed at with people with views that differ from mine. Rand Paul says things that either make no sense or that are just plain wrong. His filibuster is a waste of air.

    March 6, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  6. Billy

    For those of you claiming that Paul's filibustering is extremist partisan tea party nonsense, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden has joined the filibuster. Not particularly surprised that CNN had failed to mention that.

    At the end of the day, and contrary to what Holder and the Obama administration claim, the president does not have the right to order the summary execution of an American Citizen, oversees or domestically. It's one thing if the individual is killed during a legitimate attempt to capture them (although name a police shooting that wasn't controversial), or if they're killed during the commission of a crime that threatens the lives of others. But to order the execuation of someone who is not an active threat is a clear violation of due process.

    March 6, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  7. kayla

    why is this thing sooo angry, please get help before you blow up.

    March 6, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. Wilson

    @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.
    -------------------------------–
    Did he really say that? If so, I happen to agree with him. People have a right to feel however they want. Blacks express their racism toward whites all the time, so whites should have the same freedom of speech, so should asians and mexicans, and the pink skinned and the purple skinned as well, every body except the Irish, of course (bit of sarcasm from "Blazing Saddles")

    March 6, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  9. Steve

    Senator Paul has what most Americans cherished and valued at one time in both parties. Sadly, too many have lost that spirit and conviction. The moment we loose that ability to speak is when our country will start using drones to kill anyone the government (at that time) decides it does not like on our own soil. May we never get there under any party or President. I bristle as much with it today under President Obama as I do hearing Dick Cheney or recall Nixon with his hit list. No party and no President should execute that power. Period.

    March 6, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  10. allan1776

    Thank you Senator Paul. Everyone should have due process and a jury trial before being incinerated by a Hellfire missile.

    March 6, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    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.
    ------------------–
    It was not your average group of local or state law enforcement officers that led the attack on the bunker. It was a team especially trained to make that type of an assault. BTW, they had drones circling overhead for that entire week.

    Your post suggests that it is okay for local law enforcement to target and kill civilian terrorists. But not the military?

    March 6, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  12. Thomas

    "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."

    The Aqua Buddha has spoken !

    March 6, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  13. just sayin

    obama needs to be careful about what he let's out of the bag. people can buy drone aircraft too. one came close to an airliner as it landed. if he starts drone wars in the skys above us, everybody will be endangered, including him and everybody else that flies in an aircraft. no one will be safe.

    March 6, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  14. uncabulldog

    What you guys don't understand is that this isn't a partisan filibuster. BOTH republicans and democrats that serve on the intelligence committee have more questions that need answers before Brennan's confirmation, but Brennan is refusing to answer them. If you actually watch this filibuster you have seen democrats such as ron wyden defend paul's statements.

    March 6, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  15. allan1776

    It's amazing how many people seem to be okay with BHO and Holder believing they have the right to execute a citizen, within the USA, without due process.

    March 6, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  16. lilred

    Guess they have nothing better or more constructive to do.

    March 6, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  17. freedom

    Obama is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has invited known terrorists to the White House. This is fact. Use that information while deliberating over drone usage by Obama.

    March 6, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  18. uncabulldog

    you know, this isnt a partisan issue. anybody actually watching this shouldve seen Senator Mark Wyden (D-Oregon), supporting Paul's views. there are some issues that are partisan between Republicans and Democrats, and some are partisan between the Executive and Legislative Branch. This is the latter.

    March 6, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  19. Jay

    If American's can't rally around an idea so intrinsic to our nation as the rule of law, and prefer instead to cling to their partisanship, then there is little hope for the future.

    March 6, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  20. sftommy

    President Obama is correct in not committing himself or his office to the words Senator Paul wanted.

    In time of war Presidents have extraordinary powers that might require just such a decision to protect Americans from imminent harm. Long history of executive authority not being challenged in these contexts.

    March 6, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  21. The Real Tom Paine

    -Wilson

    @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.
    -----------–
    Did he really say that? If so, I happen to agree with him. People have a right to feel however they want. Blacks express their racism toward whites all the time, so whites should have the same freedom of speech, so should asians and mexicans, and the pink skinned and the purple skinned as well, every body except the Irish, of course (bit of sarcasm from "Blazing Saddles")
    ************
    Freedom of Speech also comes with responsibility, something the Righties abandoned a long time ago. So, if you know your words will be highly offensive, assume responsibility for your actions when a multi-racial America beats the snot out of you. Just because you can say it does not mean you should, something Rand Paul would eb wise to remember, though I doubt Aqua Budda will ever do that. Nice try with the " Blazing Saddles" reference, though: one of my favorites.

    March 6, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  22. The Real Tom Paine

    -freedom

    Obama is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has invited known terrorists to the White House. This is fact. Use that information while deliberating over drone usage by Obama.
    ************
    I really, really hope you are being paid for this.

    March 6, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  23. The Real Tom Paine

    -just sayin

    obama needs to be careful about what he let's out of the bag. people can buy drone aircraft too. one came close to an airliner as it landed. if he starts drone wars in the skys above us, everybody will be endangered, including him and everybody else that flies in an aircraft. no one will be safe.
    ************
    Did you call Ted "Crapper Boy" Nugent to see if drones are covered in the 2nd Amendment? Gonna get me one of those!

    March 6, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain: We don't have a spending problem; we have a Republican problem.

    Rand just wants to keep his name on the airwaves. For folks who support his dog-eat-dog mentality, go live in Somalia, where there is no pesky government to "intrude" on your life or in India, where there is no pesky income tax to "diminish" your riches.

    March 6, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. Ronald

    These guys are A holes with no morals. They like to think they doing the right thing but tell that to all the people affected by their BS....they don't care. They only care about their harmful ideology and their jobs. Both will be gone soon.

    March 6, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
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