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. blegs38552

    Hate to agree with him about anything, but in this case, I have to make an exception. At the very least, a court order should be a condition of any such action. This is entirely too frightening a scenario, and should be clarified before it goes any further, and the rights of US citizens protected.

    March 6, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  2. Dispatches from the Bubble

    And the whole country was not outraged at the Patriot Act. Republicans cheered the lose of their rights and screamed at those against it.

    -–

    Exactly. Anyone that dared speak out against that was called unpatriotic. "you're with us, or you're with the terrorists" Remember that one.

    March 6, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  3. Jeff

    Drones are yet another manner of robbing the American people of their civil liberties and consolidating their own power in the name of security. The attitude of, "Well, I don't have anything to hide, so who cares if the government is watching", is a very dangerous thing. You see it in other areas of our lives: cell phones with GPS, gun laws, traffic light cameras, etc. The Patriot Act was passed at a time when the nation was in a state of emergency. In that kind of an emergency, the government can quickly subvert accepted norms and customs for the sake of protection, but rarely gives back civil liberties. The burning of the Reichstag in Berlin as a classic example. Because the German people were truly afraid of a possible Communist uprising, they allowed a government to Constitutionally remove civil liberties. The results speak for themselves: holocaust, world war, etc.
    Now, we're a long way off from anything like that. But, in a long-standing democracy like our's, the process is still possible, it just happens over a longer timeline. Democracy and civil liberties are ingrained deeply enough in the American consciousness that for us to decend into true tyranny will necessarily be an inter-generational process.
    So a lot of the encroachments into our lives that we see from the government is merely a way of socializing the American youth to day-to-day surveillance. Much like school IDs with tracking chips, if you desensitize young people to being constantly watched from a young age, they will never know that civil liberties existed and go along with any plan the federal government has when they're adults.
    The only way to stop any government from widening its power base is for people to wake up and recognize what's happening.
    If you think I'm a nut, that's fine. But do you honestly trust our government, republican or democrat, to do the right thing?

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

    @JB – Thank you. This is so not a partisan issue – but totally a Constitutional issue. I am shocked people here of any party are not jumping all over this possibility of drones over America without any discussion of its Constitutionality. Worse, AG Holder backed it – before he didn't. People! This is frightening for all American citizens – and you better speak up – now. Kudos to Rand Paul for having the courage to speak out for all of us – from a left of middle Libber.

    March 6, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  5. amieholma

    I admire him he is doing what he thinks is right.

    March 6, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  6. wiseup:

    this drone issue is way over blown. Drone attacks in U.S.is very unlikely to ever happen. If there is an imminent threat of a high rate of fatalities from a terrorist the option of a drone attack is available, if the terrorist is positvely identfied and can be singled out without hurting innocent bystanders. Rand Paul is grandstanding to get his face in the press. Paul has the delusional idea of running for president.

    March 6, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  7. Bubba

    I do not understand why anyone on the left or right would be for drone attacks in the US against citizens. Can't we stand united under any American principles anymore?

    March 6, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  8. Jinx9to88

    LMAO!!! These crazies on here "I am willing to fight against our own military I have to". Are you kidding me? You better go on craigslist and buy a couple tanks and fighter jets and maybe you will put up a fight for about 3 minutes. You guys made my day. LMAO

    March 6, 2013 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  9. dailyrumblings

    NOT ACCURATE REPORTING... Cruz's questioning of Holder took several tries to get him to simply answer "No" – that was not Holder's original nor repeated answer... CNN is NOT doing its job of reporting ACCURATELY. Holder, when questioned as to, "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," said that under the "hypothetical" circumstances Cruz presented, he didn't believe the use of force under those circumstances would be "appropriate." When Cruz acknowledged that he was not seeking whether or not Holder felt it was appropriate or inappropriate, but rather wanted to specifically wanted to know whether or not Holder believed it "Constitutional," again Holder replied with the "appropriate" phrase. When Cruz then expressed his dismay at Holder's inability to unequivocally say, "no this would not be constitutional" instead of speaking about appropriateness, and was ready to move on, Holder then said basically, well, I think I did say that – only, he pointedly didn't, then he said, "No." BUT HE STILL NEVER SAID – NO IT WOULD NOT BE CONSTITUTIONAL TO TARGET AN AMERICAN TERROR SUSPECT SITTING AT A CAFE (with a drone).

    March 6, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  10. Nate Morris

    When the Libertarians were launched, they offered PRINCIPLE. When Ron Paul ran for President, I thought that at last we have a PRINCIPLED politician. Then when his son stood up for some of what his father stood for, I was filled with hope.

    Alas. Rand Paul turned out to be just another political schemer, ready to sell out his own father to pander to the voters. Without his renowned and principled father, Rand Paul would be a totally inconsequential nobody. But he inherited (not earned) the honored name of Paul – then put it up for sale to th highest bidder.

    This traitor abandoned the father who had given him national prominence and switched his support to the representative of the Cayman Islands. If a politician will betray his own father, how could he ever be trusted by the rest of us?

    March 6, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  11. ghostriter

    Typical republican exaggeration. I wonder where all this slippery slope talk was when the talk was about racial profiling. No, I guess I don't really wonder. It almost always comes down to one thing:

    Republicans don't mind stomping on folks rights as long as their own are protected. Cop shoots an unarmed man....he probably deserved it. Neighborhood watch guys shoots an unarmed teen......self defense. The thought that YOU might be on the wrong end of a weapon and suddenly you are all about rights.

    Let's say this for those in the cheap seats: If you denounce the US, you are no longer a citizen. Not many people are dumb enough to let lose a drone over US soil to bomb someone when a routine sniper team would do. Are you losers that paranoid? The government has ways of getting folks here. Not so much overseas.

    March 6, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  12. Jinx9to88

    People have a problem with Obama using Drones, but they didnt have a problem when Bush/Cheney sent our military to war on lies!!! Hypocrits!!!

    March 6, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  13. AZ Girl

    So, you are holding up the business of the United States of America, the confirmation of the Director of an agency vital to American security abroad because a person who is not up for the job, not in the agency, or under its control, said that he could "envision" something happening?

    I could say that absolutely makes me question if there is ANY sanity at all in our elected officials, but hey my state keeps voting McCain back.

    P.S. I can "envision" myself winning the lottery too! But is it gonna happen? Probably not, but it could happen!

    March 6, 2013 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  14. coffee girl

    This is playing out like the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and even some of the comments here are like those who spoke against Smith's filibuster in the movie.

    March 6, 2013 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  15. plain&simple

    The way for our government to not lose itself is for both parties to find common ground on our issues!!! The situation as it now exists only breeds contempt and this only benefits the extreme!!! Just look and listen and tell me where I'm wrong.

    March 6, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  16. wiseup:

    The use of drones in U.S. Is unlikely and only hypothetical. Would be used only In very serious situations as was stated in article.Examples would be a Pearl Harbor situation or a 9/11 siruations. other wise normal police and/ or FBI would be used

    March 6, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  17. cm74130

    Time to end all filiblusters.

    March 6, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  18. LessGov_IL

    Whatever side you are, repub, dem, independent, other you have to agree killing of American Citizens on U.S. soil is unacceptable. Good job, we need more politicians less concerned about party pandering, and more concerned about upholding their oath to the United States Constitution.

    And for those whose only contributions on here are : "Teabagger this, repub that, GOP die". Start providing relevant commentary to the article, and please refrain from what equates to a grade school bully session. Provide actual discussion, and discontinue the cheerleading. – If you're FOR what Sen. Paul is filibustering against, then STATE WHY!

    Here's my view: Let's be honest, it wasn't getting any attention within the media and was largely being swept under the rug. This in my view was a great way to bring it into light in way the media would be FORCED to cover it.

    March 6, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  19. blueboycott

    Your kid was killed by a drone strike. He was near the impact zone. We're sorry. Think about that for a moment.

    March 6, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  20. freedom

    @Think Again

    You really do need to think again. Without Bush and Cheney, Bin Laden would have never been found. It was all the interrogation and work they did before Obama was ever on the scene – and the Navy Seals that brough him down. And Obamae took all the credit. You have been brainwashed by this man. Why allow yourself to be brainwashed by anyone? Look all these things up – see what his relationships have been, who he has invited to the White House, how he is silent about Benghazi – how he was silent during the Arab Spring while the Muslim Brotherhood was taking over Egypt – his loyalties are not with America. This is devastatingly troubling.

    March 6, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  21. Larry L

    @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.
    =========================================================
    Those who don't realize that our government is a result of our democracy may just be fearful right-wingers who are disappointed others are participating. Democracy doesn't give you everything you demand – especially when your demands violate the rights and well-being of our society. They could also be seditious traitors who spend their time glued to hate-media and right-wing militia publications.

    March 6, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  22. drom11

    CNN...The word Filibuster comes from the dutch word meaning Buccaneer, not pirate. Check your facts. Oh and to all the people saying that it would be impossible for the American government to use drones on its own citizens, then why wont they say so clearly up or down. The fact that they wont say Yes or No to the question should be more than a little alarming to everyone regardless of what side of the aisle you are on.

    March 6, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  23. ColoKid

    Everyone needs to wise up. Stop and listen to what he's saying. The president and the attorney general refuse to say this simple sentence "It is not within our power to kill non-combative American citizens on US soil, with drones or otherwise". Think about that. Seriously. Is is that hard to say? No, it's not. So why won't they say it? The answer: BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY CAN KILL NON-COMBATIVE US CITIZENS ON US SOIL!

    March 6, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  24. john vance

    As a Ky resident I would like to extend sincere apologies for our state sending this self-promoting, intellectual pipsqueak to congress.

    March 6, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  25. ghostriter

    MR. Blackhawk guy.....If Bush would have done this, it would already have been passed as a law by water carrying, rubber stamping partisan hacks.....also known as republicans.

    March 6, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
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