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 has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or


  • Willie K. wrote on March 07, 2013 08:18 AM :

    Good theater. Good politics. Good point to debate. But was it enough to make him a true contender for the presidential nomination in 2016? If so, the R’s are really in trouble!

  • Cat Balz wrote on March 07, 2013 12:02 PM :

    It was once the position of President Obama and Attorney General Holder that even foreign enemy combatants at Guantanamo should receive trials in American courts. They had to back off because even Democrats disagreed. Forget one U.S. Senator named Paul, the real questions ought to be directed to the Commander In Chief and chief law enforcement officer, but that might require the national press to get off its knees.

  • Bruce Layne wrote on March 07, 2013 12:44 PM :

    I’m disgusted that we’re even having this debate. The answer from everyone in the current administration should be, NO, American citizens cannot be assassinated on US soil without any due process, on a whim of the executive branch. That’s obviously unconstitutional.

    We now have Leon Panetta testifying in a US Senate committee hearing that the president meets with the Joint Chiefs and the director of the CIA to determine whether the US goes to war. They consult with the UN, NATO and the Arab League if it’s appropriate, and if they think Congress should know, they’ll advise them. Our US Constitution clearly states that Congress has the authority to declare war and the president does not.

    We now have a president with a Kill List, which was almost a bragging point by top ranking members of the administration, but the president refuses to confirm or deny it. It’s out in the open, but not a topic for discussion. “Just wanted to let you know that we can kill any of you at any time, but we don’t want to talk about it.”

    We have a Gestapo styled TSA groping and irradiating us at the airports… and now at train stations, bus stations, high school football games, highways, etc. These restrictions on internal travel are reminiscent of the USSR or the Cold War era East Germany although I don’t recall them molesting children.

    The US Death From Above foreign drone policy over sovereign nations is now coming home to roost. What is done as war abroad becomes our new domestic policy.

    Meanwhile, We the People are passive observers, as if the destruction of our nation is a reality TV show.

    I saw a recent poll that indicated that 41% of Democrats believe that president Obama should have the power to kill suspected terrorists on US soil. A decade ago, 41% of Republicans might have said the same thing about president Bush. We need to put aside our partisan knee jerk reactions and unite behind our Constitution. Blindly granting absolute power to any government is dangerous.

    Speaking of our Constitution… a presidential kill list and asserting the authority to assassinate US citizens without a trial are impeachable offenses, regardless of whether any citizens have actually been killed yet. (At least two US citizens have been killed abroad in drone strikes, one of whom was a 16 year old boy.) We need to hold every elected official to the oath sworn to our Constitution.

    I’m both grateful and proud that Rand Paul is standing up for us by standing up for these vitally important constitutional principles. We need to stand up for Rand Paul as he fights the encroaching tyranny.

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