Rand Paul's #filiblizzard filibuster
March 6th, 2013
11:59 PM ET
7 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. ThinkAgain: We don't have a spending problem; we have a Republican problem.

    @freedom: President Obama is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood? Why – because he didn't stop the people of Egypt from electing who they wanted?

    What's really dumb about your comment is how aggressively President Obama has gone after al Qaeda (remember bin Laden?) and other terrorists – most of whom are Muslim. For a guy who's "in cahoots", that seems odd.

    March 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  2. Mike

    "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."

    Yep, it's also the stance of the ALCU and practically anyone for freedom of speech. Rudy, once again you fail to grasp the idea of what freedom entails.

    March 6, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. ritmocojo

    How many times has law enforcement busted down doors etc. in the middle of the night, arresting, and sometimes shooting people, with or without a search or arrest warrant? How is sending a drone after someone any different?

    March 6, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  4. ThinkAgain: We don't have a spending problem; we have a Republican problem.

    @freedom: President Obama has invited "known terrorists" to the White House?

    What's your opinion on Dick Cheney and all his business dealings with Iraq and Saddam Hussein? Haliburton had an income of $15 billion in 1999, while Dick was still there. In addition to Iraq, Halliburton had (and may still have) among its business partners several brutal dictatorships that have committed horrible human rights abuses, including the hated military regime in Burma (Myanmar).

    Dick was our president for 8 years, so technically a "known terrorist" was invited to the White House during GW's tenure: A known terrorist LIVED there.

    March 6, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    @Just An Average Guy-I feel your pain man because I live in NC.

    March 6, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. Kowalski

    Wish there was this much concern for the price of groceries, gas, housing and all other essentials needed by the American people. It's a good bet that if a politician puts the proverbial stake in the ground, it's going to be a stake that has little or nothing to do with whats real to you and me.

    March 6, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  7. mike

    I'm as liberal as they come but I'm appalled at the lack of criticism of Obama on drones. If it was Bush people would be marching in the streets.

    March 6, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  8. A.F.

    There is a difference between being a bona fide libertarian and being a kook. Mr. Paul is the latter.

    March 6, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    Cannot imagine anyone listening to the rantings and ravings of Sen Ryan, other tnan conspiracy and end of the world followers.

    March 6, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  10. blueboycott

    Love the filibuster or hate it... Would you like to get a call during dinner that you child or family member was killed as collateral damage in a drone strike?

    March 6, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. blueboycott

    Put down the partisan hate for a moment and imagine how you would feel if you got a phone call telling you that your child or family member had been killed as collateral damage in a drone strike?

    March 6, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  12. UDidntBuildThat

    RudyNYC-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?
    So a guy kills a school bus driver by shooting him infront of a bus full of kids, takes one of the kids, hold him in a bunker, and threatens to kill the kid, and u r making the case for Obama to use drones to kill Americans with this scenario? I don't what is more stupid. The fact the the drones were used as SURVELLIANCE of the bunker and not to kill anyone or the fact that u r insinuating that we let this man kill the kid? Did they use drones to kill the kidnapper? NO! Do u even understand what is going on here? Is this Admin, now judge, juror and executioner? Shouldn't the whole country be outraged as they were when Patriot Act was passed?

    March 6, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  13. ellid

    Rand Paul is a grandstanding idiot.

    March 6, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  14. kevenk

    OK, so you have man who killed half his family and is holding a gun to the last one's head. Does SWAT take the shot or not? Your "violating" his rights, no trial, extreme prejudice.
    Now you have a terrorist on the 10th floor of a city building with a nuclear bomb about to set if off. Do you send a drone and kill hundreds, maybe thousands, but save hundreds of thousands, maybe millions in the city
    What would your decision be? Not enough time for committee, decide now
    Its not so black and white folks..

    March 6, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  15. coffee girl

    Mr. Smith goes to Washington and he filibusters today.

    March 6, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  16. Tom

    Obama should have said he liked snow - then the Republicans would have dashed outside in an attempt to obstruct it. Are there any non-crazy members of the Republican party left?

    March 6, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  17. John M

    That's right everybody, Rand Paul is an idiot and a goof and crazy like his dad, because I mean come on the federal government should have the power to kill any American citizen they want at any time for any reason without charges, without a trial, without a judge or jury and without due process. In fact the president alone should have that power. To think they shouldn't have that power is un-American... <That was sarcasm btw).

    There are countries who legally commits acts against their own people like this. the USA is not supposed to be one of them. It took Holder months to answer a simple question. Why? His answer is nuts. If you are a suspected terrorist or enemy he thinks Obama can order your execution right where you sit this moment. No arrest...nothing,. Holder confirmed this. If you think that is ok then you're part of the problem this nation is so pathetic right now...

    Everyone go watch the movie Idiocracy. That's who we are and way ahead of schedule...

    March 6, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  18. beezers

    I've been watching the filibuster since 12:30 ET and I am 100% behind Sen. Rand Paul. Thank you, Senator, for standing with all those who voted for Pres. Obama thinking that he would be transparent, and that he would reduce enhanced interrogation the use of drones. Senator Paul, you have my vote if you want it in 2016.

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

    Do we really care...nothing really comes out of his month that makes sense to anyone but him and the other crazies....

    March 6, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  20. us_1776

    Rand, trying SO hard to get noticed.


    March 6, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  21. sharon miller

    Thank You Senator Paul! I am seriously concerned about the abuse of power right now in the Government!

    March 6, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  22. Jan

    Wooo Hoo!!! I love Love Love that the Patriots are finding their voice and standing up for 'WE THE PEOPLE"!!! We are sick and tired of this regime stealing more and more of our freedoms!! We are starting to wake up and we are thrilled!!! Go Rand Go!!!

    March 6, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  23. Nicko

    Randy, you sit up there in your committee hearing and verbally assault Mrs. Clinton for not being a psychic and preparing for the attack in Benghazi. Meanwhile you can't distinguish your head from your ass. You do not represent the vast majority of Kentuckians who want government to work for us. You'd rather create a circus atmosphere in Washington while we suffer here at home. You are a shadow of your father.

    March 6, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  24. Anonymous


    Really??? You think police should be able to break in your house and shoot you for whatever reason, not vetted by anyone or upon any probable cause, and so should the US military? Are you crazy? Do you hate freedom? Do you hate the US?

    March 6, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  25. ghostriter

    udidn'tbuildthat, that is a really stupid statement. Maybe you don't get it.

    Cops kill folks all the time. And not always in self defense. But you are fine with that. That kidnapper probably got what he deserved. But so did the ex-US citizen who got droned.

    What about those cops in CA looking for the ex-cop? They shot up 2 vehicles, one with old ladies inside. Where is your outrage at that?

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

    March 6, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
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