The Chatter: What's being said about Sen. Rand Paul's epic filibuster over drones

03/06/2013 11:41 PM

UPDATED 12:43 a.m. — Beyond all the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington references, the rare marathon filibuster by Kentucky junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul shook up Washington on political and policy grounds as it moved into the wee hours of Thursday.

Twitter and the national media took notice buzzing throughout the day about the curiosity of Paul’s move as well as the effect on the debates over unmanned drones — the issue that inspired Paul’s talkathon — and the political implications.

Paul held the floor of the U.S. Senate starting at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday to block the vote on the nomination of John Brennan to head up the CIA in order to speak out the use of unmanned drones and seek clarification from the Obama administration about the use of drones.

While he yielded to questions, Paul never left his desk. He couldn’t leave, even to use the bathroom or would give back control of the debate. He finally yielded the floor at 12:39 a.m. Thursday, 12 hours and 52 minutes after he started.

“And I would go for another twelve hours to try to break Strom Thurmond’s record. But I’ve discovered 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 said, prompting laughter from the other senators and onlookers.

Paul repeatedly said during his time on the floor that he would have given up the filibuster if the Senate would vote on a non-binding resolution to express the Senate’s opinion that it’s unconstitutional to kill Americans on U.S. soil using drones. Or as The Atlantic noted in its blog at 4:43 p.m.: “Paul issues his terms of surrender: a call from Obama saying he won’t exercise any authority to kill Americans on U.S. soil.”

Hours into his filibuster, Paul began getting reinforcements from some his colleagues. As many news outlets noted, the new Senators who arrived at the Senate in 2011 when Paul did had never witnessed a talking filibuster. The last one was by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2010.

“I just want to commend the Senator from Kentucky for putting a bright light on this issue … to a great inconvenience to himself,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania shortly before midnight in the filibuster’s 13th hour.

Paul repeatedly yielded for questions without giving up the floor. That led to an interesting exchange around 12:20 a.m. Thursday with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Paul talked about the trickiness of trying to define an “imminent threat” as justification for a drone strike. Durbin said Osama bin Laden was an imminent threat to the United States but, at the time he was killed, was “probably not” planning an imminent attack on the United States.

“I would say, touche,” Paul said. “Good response. And I would say — worth thinking about.”

Starting around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Paul was joined by Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, as the Washington Post reported. Others who joined in throughout the day included Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and John Cornyn of Texas, as well as Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Politico wrote that this filibuster “may have been Paul’s biggest moment so far in the Senate.” The article by Philip Ewing went on to say that Paul’s demonstration “captured the attention of conservatives, libertarians and even liberals” over the drone issue:

Paul’s filibuster was filled with red meat for the libertarian conservatives who form his base and that of his father, the former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Like-minded bloggers and Twitter users vowed to “Stand with Rand.” And as the day wore on, Paul’s colleagues joined him on the floor to ask discursive questions to give him some relief, including a potential 2016 presidential rival, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Slate’s David Weigel made the point that no matter what, Paul has succeeded in raising the profile of the drone issue and the questions that surround it.

He arrived in the Senate on Wednesday with a black binder packed with drone-skeptic articles and quoted from the Atlantic, Esquire, National Review, and the Guardian. Within hours, reporters who rarely covered drone policy were live-tweeting Paul quotes. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a #StandWithRand fundraiser for senators who “remained committed to upholding the values and the mandates of the Constitution.”

From a political standpoint, Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” wrote that the talking filibuster was the latest example of how Paul “is not an easy politician to read. And that would make him a pretty dangerous candidate for opponents if he runs for president in 2016.” He referred to Paul’s filibusters (non-marathon gabfest varieties) of the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary before ultimately voting for Hagel’s nomination. Sullivan went on to write:

Yes, Paul has long opposed the administration’s drone program and criticized its lack of transparency. But it wasn’t clear that he was ready to elevate that opposition with a talking filibuster until today. He opposed Hagel, which means it certainly wasn’t clear that he would ultimately vote for him. In other words, anticipating Paul’s net move is next to impossible. And in a presidential campaign, that could mean headaches for the opposition.

The Washington Times went a step further writing that Paul’s filibuster not only “raised his national profile” but also quoted an anonymous GOP strategist saying the move made him a White House frontrunner.

“It is a brilliant policy and political statement,” one Republican strategist said. “He instantly becomes the man to beat in 2016.”

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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