In December 2010, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) conducted the longest talking filibuster in 27 years, speaking for 8.5 hours in opposition to President Obama’s tax deal with Republicans — a speech Sanders later turned into a book.
On Wednesday into Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) busted the “Filibernie” record — by far, at 12 hours and 54 minutes — as he demanded answers from the Obama administration on policy regarding domestic drone strikes.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak. 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,” Paul began.
“That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country,” he said. “I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”
The filibuster against the CIA director nomination began at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday, on a Hill sparsely populated because of the snowstorm outside.
Hence, Paul’s effort quickly took on the name “Filiblizzard,” with its own Twitter account. Like Sanders, Paul rapidly was honored with a site tracking his filibuster, IsRandPaulStillTalking.com.
“I will speak today until the president responds and says no, we won’t kill Americans in cafes; no, we won’t kill you at home in your bed at night; no, we won’t drop bombs on restaurants. Is that so hard?” Paul said. “It’s amazing that the president will not respond. I’ve been asking this question for a month. It’s like pulling teeth to get the president to respond to anything. And I get no answer.”
And as the #StandWithRand hashtag reigned on Twitter, and more Republicans filtered onto the Senate floor to help out Paul, it became clear that Paul didn’t just make a point on civil liberties but breathed some chutzpah into his party. Unlike historical filibusters that have included phone-book or cookbook reading to fill time, the senator stayed on topic the entire time. Supportive House members came into the upper chamber and cheered on the son of their former lower chamber colleague.
“Sending strength and prayer to @SenRandPaul for him to ‘Drone’ on and on!” tweeted Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.).
This monumental moment for the Senate GOP, though, was muddled by the evening absence of a dozen Republicans who enjoyed a three-hour secretive dinner at the Jefferson Hotel with President Obama: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-S.C.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
According to the White House, Obama picked up the check for the party.
Chambliss and Toomey helped Paul with his filibuster before or after the dinner. Later on the floor, Johnson said the meeting was an “excellent dinner.”
“This evening at our meeting with the president, we had an opportunity to express our views on the challenging task of getting our nation’s fiscal house in order,” Hoeven said in a statement. McCain and Coburn each flashed a thumb’s up to reporters staking out the hotel as they left.
Though eating is not allowed on the Senate floor, Paul took nibbles of snacks at points, continuing to read his notes while chewing. Mid-filibuster, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) put an apple and a thermos full of green tea on Paul’s desk in a nod to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; the Senate sergeant-at-arms later had the snack removed per the rules.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wandered onto the floor. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) offered to hold hearings on drones, which Paul brushed off as just a standard congressional stall tactic.
And unlike Sanders, who didn’t have a bipartisan Filibernie, Paul had Democratic support — some wholehearted, some tepid.
The ACLU and Code Pink praised the Paulibuster. “Good for Sen Paul-a talking filibuster to fight for an important ideal- unlike McConnell’s partisan silent filibusters designed to paralyze,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a vocal critic of Obama’s drone program, was the only Democrat to join Paul on the floor.
“Sen. 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 and that, of course, has been a central pillar of our nation’s counter-terror strategy,” Wyden said.
The lack of Democratic representation as the GOP waved the flag for due process rights didn’t sit well with some liberals off the Hill. “For gods sake where are democrats ?? ‘@democracynow: Rand Paul: Obama Admin Response Drones More Than Frightening’ http://owl.li/itdHI ,” tweeted actor John Cusack.
Senators sticking it out with Paul and giving him a break — asking lengthy questions of the Kentucky Republican while he got to rest his voice without yielding the floor — were Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Cruz read aloud supportive messages from Twitter — another activity disallowed on the Senate floor.
As the filibuster approached hour No. 12, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) arrived and spoke for a short time. Others lending a hand to Paul in the late-night hours included Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Read often on the floor was the controversial response Paul received this week from Attorney General Eric Holder to his repeated requests for detailed information about whether drone strikes would be used against Americans on U.S. soil.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder wrote. “For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.”
“If the president will sort of say what Attorney General Holder was trying to say this morning and put it into actual words, that he thinks that he has the military authority to reject imminent attack, I think we all agree to that,” Paul said on the floor. “But if he says that he’s not going to use drones on people who are not engaged in combat in America, I think we could be done with this debate. I think one phone call from the president to clarify what his position is or from the attorney general to actually write out what his position is, but I guess the reason I’m kind of alarmed is we have a quote from the attorney general saying that the fifth amendment, the executive branch will decide when and if to use the fifth amendment.”
When Paul finally gave in to Mother Nature, Durbin swept in to file cloture on the Brennan nomination.
“I would go for another 12 hours to try to beat Strom Thurmond’s record … but there are some limits to filibustering and I’m going to have to take care of one of those in a minute,” Paul concluded, sparking laughter.
When he yielded the floor the chamber was filled with sustained applause that didn’t yield to the banging of the gavel.
“I’m proud of my son’s efforts today to shed light on this administration’s destructive and dangerous drone policy,” former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) wrote on his Facebook page.