Rand Paul's #filiblizzard filibuster
March 6th, 2013
11:59 PM ET
9 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.

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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:

[tweet https://twitter.com/Reince/status/309524616265728002%5D

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. t

    ...OK....I gotta give him this one. Playing "Mr Smith goes to Washington".........well...........ok.....................Give the guy some ups.....................BUT HE IS STILL CRAZY AS ALOON....................

    March 6, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  2. mydogsays

    If anyone thinks that it's OK for our government to claim that it has the right to assassinate anyone in this country without charges, without trial, without question then YOU are what is wrong with this country! Try turning off your TV and try reading the United States Constitution. The President of the United States is NOT a monarchy or dictatorship. For Obama/Holder to claim that this is in any way legal, ethical or moral then it should be obvious to all that our country has been hijacked by psychopaths.

    March 6, 2013 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  3. Frank Q.

    I applaud Rand Paul for bringing this issue to the attention of the American people. He is asking for a straight, honest answer from the President or the Attorney General. Mr. Paul made a great comparison of of the drone strikes and wiretapping after September 11th. Now, we Americans can have our phone calls and e-mails tapped into without a warrant; all in the name of "security". Believe it or not there was a day the Federal Government needed a warrant to conduct these activities. Will this be the same avenue a domestic drone program will follow? Libertarians and Tea Party members are currently on the Government's "fusion" list of possible groups that could become "fringe"/"terrorist" groups. The key question is "what constitutes a terrorist?"

    March 6, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  4. snark

    @ likeaplan- NO. Not without due process of law.

    March 6, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  5. Robert in Toronto

    Seems like a bit of a nutter- chip off the old block.

    March 6, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  6. ronbogan

    Policy and rights must be individual averse. The question for Obama worshippers is "would you have given George Bush, or any future executive branch individual, with the power to execute American citizens on American soil withoiut due process?

    And why isn't CNN giving this more coverage?

    March 6, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  7. Julie V

    EVERYONE needs to think about this issue. In our country we are afforded due process of law. We have a right to trial. If a drone is launched to kill a person, whether that person is guilty or not, they are deprived of that right. Would you want to be deprived of your right to trial and and to defend yourself? This could happen. Another question you might want to ask is what if they accidentally kill the wrong person? Without proper arrest procedure, how can you be sure you are going after the right person? This is scary. The President of the United States does not have the power to determine who lives or dies at the snap of a finger. That is a dictatorship. There is a balance of powers for a reason. If you love Obama and are happy giving him this power, think about how you will feel after a precedent is set and it is a Republican sitting in the Oval Office. I say hat's off to Senator Rand Paul for standing up for our freedom and liberty.

    March 6, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  8. ronbogan

    I cannot imagine how anyone could support this notion. (Killing American citizens on American soil by drones, without due process). Right or Left, Bull moose or Whig....Even if you are a total Obama worshipper, someone else will be president in four years...Why should the executive branch be allowed to use such actions, unchecked by judicial restraint?

    March 6, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  9. ryanlondon

    you people make me sick, this man is fighting for the bill of rights and all you can do is what your party tells you....this is history and all you can do is think about yourself!

    March 6, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  10. Yolanda D

    Thank you Rand Paul for drawing attention to this important topic. Keep on talking, man.

    March 6, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  11. db

    Excellent Senator Paul, EXCELLENT!!!!!! Only wish I lived in your state so I could vote for you.

    March 6, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  12. jim

    My senator Dick Durbin, the guy who insisted that the president has the authority, on his own, to kill Americans on American soil without trial, is an embarrassing clown.

    March 6, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  13. Fearless Freep


    Obama is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has invited known terrorists to the White House


    NUT CASE ALERT.....DANGER.......WARNING !!!!!!!!

    March 6, 2013 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  14. Napolean

    Just because you trust Obama won't abuse the power to use drone strikes on american citizens isn't a reason to allow him to do so.

    All these Obama cheerleaders need to understand all the power they give Obama, gets passed on to the next guy who gets elected president, and if you think your favorite is always going to win, you're dreaming.

    March 6, 2013 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  15. cbr

    This whole issue is important, HOWEVER, the same folks who want more information about the drones are not the least bit interested in any measure which would have gun owners having to register and hold a license. This whole filibuster does not pass the smell test. Holding up a nomination is not the way to get information. Congress has been known to call people to testify on many issues and they could do so for drones.

    No one stood up to complain that we had arrested Americans who were suspected of unAmerican activity after 9/11. There was no proof against many of detainees and many were arrested because they were or Arab descent. Of course these Senators did not say a word. Nor did the say a word when reports came back from the war zone that civilians working for the government were responsible for actions which were inappropriate or they had made decisions which were against American laws.

    This is a subject that needs to be discussed by Congress. However, this is not a reason for this filibuster. Sen. Paul has made numerous statements her and abroad which would make us raise our eyebrows. He has shown that he is not afraid to get people riled up. He could do so without this filibuster. These people have to give it up already. Their indignations can go just so far particularly when they were not indignant about other issues which were far more perilous.

    March 6, 2013 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  16. gee

    Still full of himself.

    March 6, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  17. BEinformed

    Some of you do not understand the nature of Laws or how a bill works once it is signed and how Bills become Laws ...that usually then do not get changed ..Wake up sheeple ! and go learn about the political process or do not comment , you do not have the right to be a fool ! and waste the time of intelligent people who do understand that process.

    March 6, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  18. us_1776

    Rand, it's hard to be relevant with your 1890 mindset.


    March 6, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  19. Matt

    Likeaplan has the issue wrong. Drone strikes give no option for surrender. A tactical assault team would provide the option to give up and then receive a trial by jury. On a side note, remember when there was a question during one of the debates with Bush that referenced the show 24. This seems to be in the same vein.

    March 6, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  20. Tim S.

    Who cares if they are Americans or not, if they pose a significant treat to the security of the United States, they should be eliminated quickly and completely. Anybody who cannot understand this simple principle should not be able to call themselves a true American.

    March 6, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  21. tony

    I thought the rigjt to bear arms was to protect us from such as the tea party becoming our government.

    March 6, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  22. d slocum

    Today Rand Paul validated all my concerns regarding his incompetence. Yet another nail in the GOP's coffin.
    Interesting too that Strom Thurmond holds the record for filibustering. What an incredible hypocrite he was – opposing Civil Rights in spite of impregnating a black woman, then keeping the child a secret. Both represent the worst of the Republican Party. It's a shame.

    March 6, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  23. Jay Barnett

    Wow! So amazing watching a real American statesman taking a stand against the tyranny of the current administration. It's almost as good as watching the major news networks that aren't FOX try to ignore it hoping that Americans won't tune in to listen to the truth being spoken.

    I wasn't a Rand Paul fan before today, but today all real Americans are Rand Paul.

    March 6, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  24. sydney

    Thanks for the filibuster Sen. Paul! I'm learning alot. Maybe most importantly, I should be moving to Kentucky!

    March 6, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  25. Cindy Linn

    Thank goodness GOOD MEN like Rand Paul are standing to keep this country FREE.
    If Bush was doing this you would all be having a COW.
    Do you love Obama MORE than your FREEDOM, your COUNTRY??
    SNAP OUT OF IT.... this isnt about political parties.... this is about the freedom of our country, your children... STOP THINKING DEM VS REPUBLICAN....... OPEN YOUR EYES TO WHATS HAPPENING.

    March 6, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
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