Rand Paul spent Wednesday doing something you don't see often enough in Washington — he made an honest-to-goodness, non-stop filibuster speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, all-out and Mr. Smith-style. Lacking the 41 votes necessary to prevent a cloture vote that would block the nomination of John Brennan to be the new CIA director, Paul chose to stall the old-fashioned way, through the original meaning of the talking filibuster. As long as Paul spoke (and stood), he held the Senate captive — and he had a lot to say about drones.
Paul opened by vowing to "speak until I can no longer speak." He held true to that, though senators from several other states (including a Democrat from Oregon) came to the floor to ask questions, during which breaks Paul presumably attended to necessary personal needs. Harry Reid came and went, as Paul made clear there would be no vote on Brennan today, and some Senators had a dinner date with President Obama.
Paul's was the first talking filibuster since Bernie Sanders spoke for eight and a half hours back in 2010, beginning at around 11:45 a.m. and lasting well into the evening. Whether or not Paul's intended audience — the president — paid any attention remains unclear. Re-live the (ongoing) highlights below....
UPDATES (All times Eastern)
12:58 a.m.: Ron Paul yields his time around 12:40 a.m., marking the end of a 12-hour-long filibuster. He had to go to the bathroom. In interviews after, Paul explained the lead up to the event. "The weird thing is, we didn't really have a plan," he said. "I showed up this morning and we thought the debate was going to be tomorrow."
11:20 p.m.: Marco Rubio takes over. And boy does he cause a stir. Twitter lit up with his reference to rapper Wiz Khalifa, quoting Jay Z and pulling a Godfather quote from who knows where.
10:35 p.m.: Around the the ten-hour mark, Sen. Ted Cruz started reading tweets. Cruz, who took over for Paul, later quoted Shakespeare's Henry V as well George C. Scott's speech from the movie Patton.
5:10 p.m.: At the five hour, twenty minute mark, Rand Paul has outlasted us. Showing no signs of ending — or being resolved, or introducing new arguments — we'll next update when the filibuster ends.
4:58 p.m.: Paul started out reading from Alice in Wonderland. He goes back to that — back to the first binder, first page. "Has America the beautiful become Alice's Wonderland? ... Only in Alice's Wonderland would you sentence someone to death before you try them."
4:57 p.m.: Five hours, thirteen minutes.
4:48 p.m.: Reid leaves; Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey steps up to speak. Here's a map of which states' senators have appeared in support of Paul's fillibuster so far.
4:46 p.m.: Paul agrees to hold the vote now — if the president clarifies the point below. The filibuster is still on; Reid suggests that there will be no vote on Brennan today.
4:44 p.m.: Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada appears, asking for only 90 more minutes of debate. The 90 minutes would break down as: 30 minutes for Chambliss, 30 for Paul, and 30 for California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Someone is heard on the mic whispering something to the effect of "He's trying to stop it!"
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.
4:41 p.m.: Chambliss suggests that "getting information out of this administration has been like having a root canal."
4:36 p.m.: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia arrives. He is the fifth senator to make an appearance in what has become more of a time-limit-free, non-contentious debate than a filibuster.
4:34 p.m.: Citing the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, Paul suggests that approving of one president's exceptional ability to order drone strikes implies approval of all future presidents' ability to do so.
4:32 p.m.: Even in D.C., the filibuster isn't making much of a dent on Twitter, according to Trendsmap.
4:25 p.m.: Rubio asks that senators stand together when one is demanding an answer from a president. He suggests that a timely, complete answer from the administration on drones would have made today's action unnecessary, adding that confirmation votes are an appropriate time at which to raise issues.
4:21 p.m.: It's pretty easy to envision Paul turning to Rubio during a 2016 presidential debate and saying, "I was pleased when the Senator joined my filibuster." This moment could be on the brink of turning into a much broader media opportunity, if that hasn't already happened.
4:17 p.m.: Florida Senator Marco Rubio now appears. He leads with a joke about having water on-hand. Unnecessary; Paul's ability to speak for hours with very little water has already been demonstrated.
4:14 p.m.: Wyden steps away from the proceedings, suggesting that he hoped more information would be declassified and that he would work to ensure that the larger debate continues.
4:08 p.m.: On Twitter, "Senate" is trending in the United States. Neither "Rand Paul" nor "filibuster" is.
3:53 p.m.: Wyden arrives. He notes his vote for Brennan in the Judiciary Committee, suggests that the committee on the whole thinks Brennan has the required attributes to lead the Agency. However, he joins Paul's push for more information on the government's drone program, asking for greater checks-and-balances. (Wyden and Paul have been allies on this issue before.)
3:50 p.m.: Cruz continues his Alamo analogy, reading a letter in which defender William Barret Travis called for reinforcements in his doomed final stand.
Today, in bad omens for Rand Paul. RT @chadpergram: Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) likens Rand Paul's filibuster to the stand at The Alamo.— David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) March 6, 2013
3:47 p.m.: Actually surprising news: Oregon's Democratic senator Ron Wyden indicates that he will join the debate on the Senate floor.
!!! RT @ronwyden: Heading to the floor to speak on Congressional oversight of executive branch & rules for targeted killings.— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) March 6, 2013
3:42 p.m.: Cruz notes that today is the 177th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. (It is!) On behalf of 26 million Texans, Cruz says, the state is proud that Paul, a native of the state, is standing up for liberty. Cruz suggests that those who died that day would approve of Paul's fight.
3:37 p.m.: Please note that two percent of the Senate (Senators Cruz and Paul) are fairly certain that terror suspects spend a lot of time at cafés. Plan accordingly.
3:32 p.m.: Moran and Paul agree that the issue isn't drones. Were a soldier to shoot and kill a citizenon the streets of Wichita, that action would be equally offensive.
3:29 p.m.: Now Kansas Senator Jerry Moran stands up to ask a question. Moran asks Paul to judge the constitutionality of presidential recess appointments versus drone strikes on American citizens. Paul thinks the analogy is apt, demonstrating executive overreach, but offers that at least in the first instance someone's alive to contest the president's move.
3:23 p.m.: Paul offers to entertain questions from the floor; the floor appears to consist of Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz. Lee asks a question.
3:18 p.m.: Paul, clearly tired, refers to Cruz as "Mr. President" in answering his question: No, he isn't aware of any precedent in which the executive branch claims the authority to unilaterally kill an American citizen on U.S. soil. (Correction: Though he was looking at Cruz, Paul was apparently addressing the President of the Senate. He was, however, actually tired.)
3:07 p.m.: Now Texas Senator Ted Cruz steps up to the mic, asking Paul if he will yield for a question. Paul, sotto voce, corrects the request — he can't yield the floor without giving up his filibuster. Cruz says Paul's filibuster would "make Jimmy Stewart smile."
3:05 p.m.: Lee hands the focus back to Paul, but only briefly, to ask if Paul is familiar with the conversation the Senate Judiciary Committee had with Attorney General this morning. (Lee is on the committee; Paul is not.) Paul was familiar with it.
2:58 p.m.: Sen. Lee has arrived to rescue Ron Paul. A Senator in the middle of a filibuster is allowed to take questions or listen to comments "without relinquishing the floor," which is what Paul has just done. Lee's maneuver gives Paul a chance to take a break after talking for 3 hours and 12 minutes without interruption. We'll see how long Lee goes.
2:56 p.m.: Another Paul defender, though Rubio is not on the Senate floor to help with the filibuster.
2:51 p.m.: We're now in the fourth hour of his speech. Paul: "It's not inconceivable" that drones could someday read your mail.
2:42 p.m.: The plot thickens. "Senator Lee" is Mike Lee of Utah. Like Paul, he's also a member of the Tea Party Caucus.
2:27 p.m.: Paul has already flipped through an entire three-ring binder full of notes, and moved on to a second binder. Also, the water glass on his lectern is still full, and he hasn't taken a sip, despite talking for almost three hours now.
2:20 p.m.: Here's a clip of the Paul's opening remarking, announcing his plan to filibuster.
2:10 p.m.: TimeWarner Cable in New York City has twice interrupted Paul's speech to test the Emergency Broadcast System.
1:45 p.m.: Some more quotes. Paul just gave a long history lesson talking about Constitutional amendements and old Supreme Court rulings.
- "I would be here if there was a Republican president doing this." Paul says Obama's drone policy is just an expansion of George W. Bush's.
- "No one is saying the president can't repel an invasion. I do question his ability to kill non-combatants."
Rand Paul cites @conor64 in Senate floor speech on Brennan— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 6, 2013
1:15 p.m.: Paul has even brought his own hashtag:
I will not sit quietly and let President Obama shred the Constitution. #filiblizzard— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) March 6, 2013
1:05 p.m.: "Are you going to just drop a hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?"
1:00 p.m.: Paul's Twitter account, @SenRandPaul, is also updating live with highlights of his speech.
It worries me that they refuse to answer my questions, because by refusing to answer, I believe that they believe they have unlimited power.— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) March 6, 2013
12:15 p.m.: Some choice, totally out-of-context quotes, so far:
- "If there was an ounce of courage in this body, I would not be here alone."
- "The point isn't that any body in our country is Hitler..."
- "If you're going to kill people in America, you need to have rules and we need to know what those rules are. ... I don't want to find out that having seven days worth of food in your house is on the list."
- "To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that."
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 6, 2013
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the authors at
, dbennett at theatlantic dot com or pbump at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.
Adam Clark Estes