Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put his mouth where his money was last Wednesday, March 6, and engaged the Senate in a rarely seen, often threatened, legitimate filibuster contesting the confirmation of C.I.A. director nominee John O. Brennan.
The real subject of the filibuster was a protest against the Obama Administration’s justification for drone strikes against potential U.S. citizen terrorists on American soil, leaked in a justice department memo last month.
“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 said.
Beginning just before noon on March 6, Paul spoke about 13 hours discussing controversial drone strikes, the 177th anniversary of the Alamo and taking questions from his peers.
Paul never yielded the floor and ended the filibuster at 12:40 a.m. Thursday.
Among those posing supportive questions included an unlikely ally —Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Or.).
“I think Senator 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,” Wyden said.
“The executive branch should not be allowed to conduct such a serious and far-reaching program by themselves without any scrutiny, because that’s not how American democracy works,” Wyden said.
Though in agreement with Paul’s message, Wyden voted in support of Brennan regardless, and stated he would continue to do so.
In the recent era of progressively partisan politics reflected in the electorate, the mere threat of a filibuster is enough to kill a nomination or piece of legislation on the floor of the Senate.
Without the 60-vote majority required to cloture (forcibly break the filibuster), the minority party can effectively stall forever.
Democrats in the Senate attempted filibuster reform earlier this year to break up the Republican gridlock by requiring senators to actually hold the floor to stop bills and nominations.
The measure failed to pass, and instead a much weaker reform was implemented allowing a smaller bipartisan equal grouping of Senators to approve a motion to close.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders conducted the last legitimate filibuster for more than 8 hours opposing an $858 billion tax bill in 2010.
South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond (Democrat until 1964 and Republican after) holds the record for the longest filibuster on record at more than 24 hours in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Among the final supporters joining Paul on the floor was a potential future nemesis — the Republican senator from Florida and 2016 presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, who encouraged Paul to “keep some water nearby.”
Beyond the obvious Obama protest via the Brennan nomination, Paul’s own 2016 presidential bid was undoubtedly part of last Wednesday’s filibuster.
With the filibuster concluded Brennan’s nomination passed easily. Paul will have to keep putting his mouth where new cameras are to lock up the G.O.P. nomination in 2016.