Rand Paul Filibuster

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Senator Rand Paul took over the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours Wednesday with an old-fashioned talk-till-you-drop filibuster, railing against the Obama administration’s drone policy and holding up a vote on John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director. “I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul began at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday. 

He didn’t end until 12:39 a.m. Thursday, when he closed his marathon speech to thunderous applause.

“I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but I’ve 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 quipped.

Although Paul’s filibuster was technically against Brennan’s nomination, his remarks focused primarily on civil liberties issues, offering a scathing critique of the Obama’s administration’s use of unmanned drones, and refusal to rule out military strikes against American citizens on U.S. 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.” 

Later, Paul warned about the ambiguity over who could be targeted by drones, suggesting that they could have been used against Vietnam War protesters in the 1960s. 

“Are you going to just drop a hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?” Paul asked. “Are you going to drop a missile on Kent State?”

Over the course of the day, Paul’s filibuster became a hotspot for up-and-coming Republicans, with a parade of conservative Senators — including Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) – taking the floor to support Paul and relieve him of the podium. 

“You’re standing here like a modern-day ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,'” Cruz told Paul admiringly as he began his first question of the day. “You must surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile.”

Ted Cruz Filibuster

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In subsequent appearances, Cruz honored the Alamo, recited Shakespeare, and twice cheered up the fading Kentucky Senator with supportive tweets from the outside world (electronic devices are not allowed on the floor). “You da man. That would be ‘d-a-m-a-n,'” Cruz said, reading off one of the tweets.

Not to be out done, Rubio made two trips to the Senate floor, advising Paul to “drink water” and quoting liberally from  rappers Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z and “The Godfather.”

Though other Senators could take the podium to ask questions, Paul was not allowed to leave the floor during the filibuster. Around the dinner hour, he started to show signs of fading, and interrupted his speech to take bites of a candy bar. 

“I’m already getting tired, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this,” he warned.

But additional Republican Senators came to Paul’s aide as the night wore on. All told, 13 Republican Senators, and Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, had joined the filibuster by the time Paul yielded the floor shortly before 1 a.m. 

Mitch McConnell

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Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell capped off the night in hour 12, when he took the floor to announce that he plans to oppose Brennan’s confirmation. “This is a controversial nominee,” McConnell said. “Should cloture be invoked, I intend to oppose the nomination and congratulate my colleague from Kentucky for this extraordinary effort.”

Although Paul repeatedly admitted that his efforts are unlikely to stop Brennan’s confirmation, his filibuster was nonetheless historic. Extended talking filibusters are relatively rare in the modern Senate, and Paul was the first Senator to mount one in more than two years.