During what was supposed to be a federal snow day, Kentucky’s freshman Senator launched an unexpected filibuster on the chamber’s floor, holding up the vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), over the Obama administration’s unwillingness to clarify it’s drone policy.
Specifically, Paul said he wanted the President or Attorney General Eric Holder to say in writing that they would not kill American citizens with drones.
“It’s like pulling teeth to get an answer from the President,” Paul said.
By refusing to answer his questions, Paul said the Obama administration was essentially saying it believes it has unlimited power and has the right to be the judge, jury and executioner. From the beginning, Paul made it clear that he had every intention of voting for Brennan, he simply wanted to use the vote as an opportunity to demand answers from the White House.
Paul first threatened to filibuster the vote on Brennan in late February.
“Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue and the Administration’s policies on the use of lethal force,” he said in his Feb. 20 letter. He certainly kept his word.
Paul began the filibuster at 11:47 am and said he would continue to speak until the President provided an answer to his questions about the constitutionality of the country’s drone program.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul said as he began his remarks at approximately 11:47am Wednesday. “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court
In the end the Republican Senator had to end the filibuster at 12:39 am, though because his body could no longer withstand the rigors of filibustering.
“And I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but I have discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I’m going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here,” Paul said to laughter from his colleagues and viewers in the gallery.
While there is no time limit on how long a Senator can speak on the chamber floor, the practice of speaking for hours on end – filibustering – is uncommon. The last talking filibuster on the Senate floor was in December 2010, when Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) filibustered President Obama’s proposed tax cuts for eight hours. Paul topped Sanders’ time just after 7:45 pm EST. In order to beat the record set by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Paul would have had to continue speaking until 12:14 pm on Thursday afternoon. To crack the top five filibusters in U.S. history, Paul would have to speak for another three and a half hours.
During a talking filibuster a Senator is not allowed to leave the floor for any reason and must stand the entirety of the time. He must continue to talk continually throughout the filibuster, as well. The only time he can stop talking is if he yields for a question, which Paul repeatedly did as a total of 14 Republican Senators and two Democratic Senators joined the debate.
The bulk of Paul’s extended speech focused on the Obama Administration’s violations of civil liberties, in particular Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that the president “could hypothetically use military force against U.S. citizens on American soil.”
“When I asked the president, ‘Can you kill an American on American soil,’ it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding an unequivocal, ‘No,'” Paul said. “The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.”
Paul continued on to discuss the Bill of Rights, talking about everything from mobs, to Jim Crow laws and slavery to our Miranda rights to who should have access to read personal Visa credit card statements.
“I will not sit quietly and let him [Obama] shred the Constitution,” Paul said, later stating that, “I thought we were fighting to preserve our Constitution. What are we fighting for if we’re not fighting to protect our rights at home? The Bill of Rights is too important to scrap it.”
Paul made it clear that his opposition to Obama’s drone program and this filibuster have “nothing to do with the President being a Democrat.” Rather, it was in response to his ‘disappointment’ in the President for violating Americans’ rights. Paul even said he admires some of Obama’s policies, including limiting unwarranted wiretapping.
“I don’t think he will kill non-combatants, but I don’t want him to claim he has the authority to kill non-combatants,” Paul said.
He also quipped about whether the federal government was going to drop a bomb on notorious dissenters of American foreign policy such as actress Jane Fonda and Internet trolls.
“Have you ever been on the Internet? Have you ever seen crackpots on the Internet who say crazy things? Paul asked.
After Paul had spoken for about four hours, Senators began to rotate into the filibuster to ask questions and give Paul’s voice a rest. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Ron Wyden (D-Or.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Barrasso (R-Wy.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) all participated in the questioning process, though most of Pauls’ allies questions were really long speeches about drones and the Constitution with a question posed at the end to stay in keeping with the filibuster rules.
Wyden, one of only two Democrats to join in, said he supports Brennan’s confirmation, but joined the filibuster because he too is concerned about targeted killings of American citizens. In turn, Paul called Wyden “a champion for civil rights.”
Rubio jokingly advised Paul to keep a glass of water nearby while giving such a long speech. He also praised Paul for teaching folks snowed in with “nothing better to watch but CSPAN” a lesson about the Constitution.
Upon taking the floor, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas noted that Paul “standing here today, like a modern Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, must surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile.”
As the filibuster moved into hour five at approximately 4:45pm EST, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to intervene and end the filibuster by invoking cloture on the vote and limiting the debate to 90 more minutes, 30 minutes of which would go to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“I have no problem if you want to talk a long time. I’ve done a time or two in my days, but I think rest of the body needs to know if we’re going to finish tonight or tomorrow or the next day,” Reid said.
Paul said he would like to end the debate, but the Obama administration has still failed to say in writing that it will not kill American citizens with drone strikes.
“I don’t understand why he couldn’t put that into words, but if he does I want no more time,” Paul said. “But if not, I will continue to object if the administration and the Attorney General will not provide an adequate answer.”
A visibly perturbed Reid responded with, “I’m not in a position to talk to the Attorney General. We’ll just finish this matter tomorrow. Everyone should plan on coming tomorrow. We’re through for the night,” and exited the Senate.
In January, Senate Leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agreed to a filibuster reform deal to help avoid lengthy speeches like the one Paul is giving today, but it clearly did not deter Paul, and toward the end of the filibuster McConnell joined the debate, too.
After he had been speaking for about seven and a half hours, Paul proposed a unanimous consent resolution demanding an answer from President Obama to his questions. However, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) rejected the resolution on behalf of the majority party, calling it “premature” while promising to hold a hearing on drones soon that Paul could speak at.
And with that Paul went back to reading articles on the danger of drones until Cruz came back on the floor half an hour later to read him encouraging tweets from Americans who “#StandwithRand.” Because electronics are not allowed on the Senate floor, Paul was unable to receive any outside communication that was not hand delivered or read aloud in the Senate.
Unsurprisingly, Paul’s speech was talked about non-stop from start to finish and #RandPaul, #StandwithRand, Brennan and #filibuster all went viral nationwide; unfortunately, Paul’s own hashtag – #filiblizzard – didn’t. The #StandwithRand hashtag eventually began trending on twitter worldwide.
“I think the technical term for what the Twitterverse is doing right now is ‘blowing up,’ ” Cruz told Paul.
Paul thanked Cruz for “cheering” him up, noting that he was getting kind of tired. He then clarified that he’d take any type of written response from Attorney General Eric Holder clarifying the administration’s policy on drone strikes, including a telegram or even a tweet.
Cruz came back second time just after 10 pm to read Paul more tweets, including one that said, “This can end, Brennan. Just say you won’t unilaterally kill us” and another that said “U da man.” Cruz noted that instead of giving a maiden speech on the Senate floor, he was using his first opportunity to speak in the chamber to ‘Stand with Rand’ himself.
The Texas Senator proceeded then to read Shakespeare and General Patton for a large chunk of time. Directly after Cruz, Rubio took the floor again to note that he doesn’t know any Shakespeare, but he can quote the “modern poet” Wiz Khalifa, “Work hard, play hard” and one of the greatest movies of all time – “The Godfather.”
“And that brings me back to another modern day poet – his name was Jay-Z,” Rubio said.
In the end, Paul’s bladder got the best of him and he had to end the filibuster, but he did so surrounded by his friends from both chambers of the federal government and amidst loud cheering. The Senate President was forced to call the chamber to order three times before the room quieted down, noting that “expressions of approval or disapproval are not allowed in the Senate.”
As soon as Paul finished speaking, Durbin filed for cloture on the vote, to prevent another filibuster from taking place this afternoon.