When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched into his nearly 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of new CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday, some conservatives on Twitter quipped that the young Paul was proving he’s a chip off the old Ron.
But Sen. Paul emerged from his filibuster feat with more than just a brief response on domestic drone strikes from Attorney General Eric Holder, which the lawmaker lauded as a victory. In just a couple of years in the Senate, he has moved the ball further on a viable presidential run for a self-described libertarian candidate than his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), did in two presidential tries.
On a Hill of back-room deal-making and politically expedient votes, Paul’s accomplishment — which never resorted to the phone-book-reading, aimless time-filling filibusters of old — stood out as a politician who was wiling to stand up — and not sit, use the loo or eat a meal other than his covert bites of candy — for what he believes is right. In an age where the right social media buzz can make C-SPAN must-see TV, he got exactly the right coverage in all the right corners.
It’s a stretch to suggest that Paul staged this as some sort of early campaign event — after all, before this week he’d gotten scant attention for his repeated hammering of the administration on drone use, and a filibuster is a rather painful way to get attention. But in the morning after, when the filibuster was over and Brennan was confirmed, something was different on the 2016 landscape.
Perhaps it was the unifying constitutionalist message that united unlikely bedfellows on the right and left, so much so that Code Pink hand-delivered flowers and chocolates to his office this morning. Perhaps it was seeing #StandWithRand still reigning as the trending topic on Twitter 12 hours later, and realizing he has the ability to strike a real chord in a grass-roots weary of being fed manufactured politicians. Perhaps it was the revelation that a candidate who has simply made constitutionalism cool would be able to credibly pull down partisan barriers in a general election.
Whatever image he forged of his own doing Wednesday, it was burnished today by the Senate floor attempt of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to tarnish Paul.
“I watched some of that, quote, debate, unquote, yesterday. I saw colleagues who know better come to the floor and voice some of this same concern, which is totally unfounded,” McCain said, adding it was “ridiculous” and “a stretch of the imagination” to “allege or infer that the President of the United States is going to kill somebody like Jane Fonda, or somebody who disagrees with the policies.”
“To my Republican colleagues, I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone,” Graham said. “…To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war. Not Senator Paul, he’s a man to himself.”
McCain and Graham had originally threatened to block the Brennan nomination themselves over outstanding questions about the Benghazi attacks, but that opposition evaporated and both senators cast their votes in favor of confirmation.
Paul’s effort started with a core of supporters, chiefly Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), but higher-ranking senators wandered in during the later hours of the filibuster to be on record with the once-in-a-blue-moon event, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), giving the impression that Paul was delivering crushing peer pressure to his colleagues. House members caught up in the contagious enthusiasm of the moment also found seats in the chamber.
While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today offered praise for Paul’s, shall we say, control — “to succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder” — some other Democrats slammed and ridiculed the Paulibuster.
“No drone is going to be used in the United States against an American citizen walking down a street or sitting in a cafe,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC. “And you know, and then there was a stupid example of a drone being used against Jane Fonda. I mean, I don’t think this is befitting the Senate floor.”
On CNN, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the only Democrat to help Paul’s filibuster, said “this debate is not essentially about Jane Fonda.”
“I think you’re going to see Democrats and Republicans here in the United States Senate — we kind of call ourselves the checks and balances caucus — spending a lot of time trying to bring to light consistent with national security more details about the drone program,” he said.
Paul came to the Senate on a wave of Tea Party backing, but his time in Washington has been a rapid-fire evolution during which he’s immersed himself in the system, forged relationships, learned the ropes, and taken chances.
Mocking the filibuster and providing reading material for McCain’s arguments on the floor, The Wall Street Journal ripped Paul in an editorial accusing him of using the snowstorm for “theatrical timing.”