Sen. Rand Paul, the freewheeling libertarian from Kentucky, launched into an old-fashioned filibuster on Wednesday to block John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. Paul is angry about a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder saying that in an extreme situation a president could, in theory, order lethal force to be used against an American citizen in the U.S. Paul called that an "abomination," and vowed to hold up Brennan's nomination until the Obama administration vowed to never use drone strikes on American soil.
"I will speak until I can no longer speak," Paul said as he launched his filibuster. "I will speak as long as it takes until the alarm is sounded coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by drone on American soil, without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court."
Paul succeeded in surprising his colleagues, if nothing else. In fact, says Philip Ewing at Politico, shortly before Paul took over the podium, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Saxby Chambliss, said he'd go along with a vote on Brennan on Wednesday. That might be why congressional aides expected Paul's "high-profile filibuster" to fizzle after a few hours.
Paul was not expected to be able to sustain his filibuster; in fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said earlier in the day that he was in talks with Republicans about a confirmation vote with a 60-vote threshold to save the need for a procedural vote before the final confirmation. [Politico]
Even Paul has conceded during his rambling talk that he lacks the votes to derail the nomination. No matter how Paul's filibuster ends, though, it has already accomplished one thing. He has undeniably gotten people's attention. This is the first "talking filibuster" in more than two years, notes Grace Wyler at Business Insider.
The speech, which began at 11:50, has referenced everyone from Adolf Hitler to Austrian economist Frederich Hayek and political reporters on the left and right. Warning about the ambiguity over who could be targeted by drones, Paul suggested that they could have been used during 1960s campus protests.
"Are you going to just drop a hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?" Paul asked. "Are you going to drop a missile on Kent State?" [Business Insider]
Paul's resurrection of one of "the most celebrated — ahem detested — pageants of the American political process" is indeed a futile gesture, says Brian Resnick at National Journal. It's also awesome entertainment. "Forget Netflix, this is the real House of Cards." The question now is whether the Tea Party favorite can break the record for the longest filibuster as he conjures up memories of Jimmy Stewart's marathon rambling talk in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
To break the record, Paul better keep refilling his glass of water. In 2010, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held the floor for eight hours in protest of tax cuts. Toward the end, he started to read letters sent from his constituents.
In 1957, Strom Thurmond spoke for a dawn-chasing 24 hours and 18 minutes, in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He reportedly prepared for the hot-air marathon by taking a steam bath so he wouldn't need to go to the bathroom during the ramble. No word on whether Paul has prepared in a similar manner... So get some popcorn or hot chocolate and click here to watch the livestream on C-SPAN. [National Journal]