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. callmecrazy

    "Sen. Rand Paul will appear Wednesday on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" starting at 7 p.m. ET."

    So I guess he won't be talking for too much longer.

    March 6, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  2. Romney is Still NOT My Hero

    All these GOPers/Independent/Conservative/Tea Party/Whatevers campaigning for 2016 are getting on my nerves.

    March 6, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  3. frontgate

    Oh boy, the wing-nuts, they only had black helicopters to obsess about, now it's drones. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    March 6, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  4. JB

    Pathetic. Whether you like Paul or not the issue of targeting Americans for assassination with no regard for constitutional rights should be concerning. Sadly most comments on here are just partisan whining and petty insults. Apparently critical thought is too hard and it's just better to sit back and ignore this issue and just hope that government officials are saints who would never abuse such illegal power. The administration viewed a 16 year old American kid who was nowhere near a battlefield as an "imminent threat" and had him assassinated. Keep that in mind when Holder says that the government can launch a drone strike on US soil in an "extraordinary" circumstance. It is insanity with a dash of cowardice that most in this nation prefer to bicker and hurl insults over party affiliation than actually care about their civil liberties.

    March 6, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  5. wiseup:

    This drone issue to be allowed to use in U.S. is blown way out of proportion. It was stated that the odds of this being necessarywas very unlikely. It would only be used in event of a very serious imminent threat of many loss of life and only if they can identify the terrorist. Rand Paul is grand standing, getting his face in the press. After all he has a delusional idea that he will run for president in 2016.

    March 6, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  6. mike jones

    in before liberals bash rand for the simple fact hes is a republican... too late. lol liberals defend their god king at all costs no matter how bad he is... sad group of people

    March 6, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  7. mack

    Kevenk....Think he's an idiot or not.....Rand Paul is clearly arguing against drone strikes against non-combative American's...all of your scenarios are about combative citizens.

    Real example would be.

    A well known, but unconvicted drug lord is asleep in his bed–home alone. Can the government put a bomb in his window?

    March 6, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  8. charles e ousley

    Use drones somewhere else, a war zone, declared, the goverment is already too far involved in everyones business if you give and inch they will take a mile thats the way people are.

    March 6, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  9. plain&simple

    No drone strikes here or abroad. Period. What happens when another country sends a drone over US soil to execute a terrorist they want dead? Don't like Rand and his overall politics.....however on this point I have to agree!!!

    March 6, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  10. LouAZ

    Havn't been reminded of this word, WINDBAG, in years.

    March 6, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  11. justthefsxpleez

    Seems CNN isn't showing the comments of support for Paul. Go figure.

    March 6, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  12. jack johnson

    An easy cure is to give the U.S. Marshals the drones, then the milatary would have nothing to do with strikes on U.S. soil. Next the Republicans wants all the secret information released to all of congress (so you might all well just post it on line), and get rid of the C.I.A. all together (that would make the repubs. happy).

    March 6, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  13. rs

    Rand Paul, his filibusters, and obstruction are anti-American.

    March 6, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  14. Al

    Your quote, "in an effort to stall a confirmation vote on CIA Director nominee John Brennan"
    Is a distortion; The effort is clearly ( and stated by Paul) not to simply delay a vote on Brennan but to protect us from our own government with death from the sky without due process in our own country!
    Give us the answer President Obama. Will you or will you not?

    March 6, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  15. goblackhawks

    What is sad is if President GW Bush wanted drones to KILL Americans in the US .. all you libs would cry for impeachment ... But if Obama wants it you are OK with it ... VERY SCARY ... YOU LIBS should be ashamed of yourself ... you are the scary ones ... not the Tea Party Patriots ...

    March 6, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  16. likeaplan

    Senator Paul, would it be okay if an American is killed by a bullet fired from a member of a tactical assault squad? It's seems that you have a problem with the delivery system, and not the outcome. Can't have it both ways, if so, you should make your stand against any form of killing Americans from any government agency!

    March 6, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  17. DarthTod

    I don't typically agree with Rand Paul, but I can't argue this one. The thought of the government using drones to eliminate American citizens on American soil without due process is more than a little disturbing. However, before the right gets too self righteous on this, they didn't protest much when the issue was confining Americans without due process under George W Bush.

    March 6, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  18. Triple A

    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.

    March 6, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  19. Steven

    Drones are already in use over US skies. Police departments all over the country are leaping over each other in glee to get as many of these as they can. All for our protection and well being of course.

    So police departments and federal agencies are already flying drones over US airspace, that is a fact, a simple google search and tell you that.

    First they will use them for spying, but how long until some drug dealer is deemed "too dangerous" before being convicted, and police just blow up his/her home from a distance? If we can kill American citizens, including a 16 year old kid, in Yemen without a trial, I predict we'll see it done here in the US before we all pass.

    I could care less about Rand Paul, or how anyone feels about him, this is an issue that every American should be able to agree upon. Only a fool would trust our miserable and corrupt government and police with this kind of unchecked power.

    March 6, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  20. oldowl

    He's missing something. Let me think.

    Ah, yes. It's the signature teabagger "dunce hat," and the round, red, rubber nose with horn-rimmed glasses. That would complete the portrait of Randy Paul.

    March 6, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  21. goblackhawks

    To DarthTod .. I'm assuming you are talking about Gitmo ... remember those were TERRORISTS caught in the field of battle in Iraq or Afg. Terrorists don't have rights(they are barely humans) .. And there were protests .. remeber Code Pink camping out infront of Bush's house in Texas or the protests right after Iraq started. Where is Code Pink NOW !! They only seem to care when the president has an R after his name .. not a D

    March 6, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  22. obama-the_constitution-killer

    Paul the only true American in government. go go go.

    March 6, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  23. Alina77

    All of this makes this country wicker and wicker.... I hate all of this... No progress but big mouths are everywhere..

    March 6, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  24. marthatiller

    This whack job Paul must not know what party he is in. A war mongering Republican Party member is blocking something related to keeping this Country safe by using war tactics? These republicans are killing America.

    March 6, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  25. Alabama Liberal

    I'm a bleeding heart liberal, but I'm with Rand Paul on this one. When Bush pulled stuff like this Democrats screamed and Republicans cheered him on. Now we have a Democratic president and everyone has flip flopped proving that to large portions of our population, political party is knee jerk. People put more thought into the football team they cheer on.

    March 6, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
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