WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a rare, traditional filibuster, Sen. Rand Paul vowed to speak on the Senate floor “as long as it takes” to draw attention to his concerns about the Obama administration’s policy regarding the targeted killing of American terrorism suspects.
The Kentucky Republican took to the floor before noon EST Wednesday to block an expected vote on the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA, with aides saying he could continue for hours. Paul, beginning his remarks, said he would continue “until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important.”
“Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans?” Paul asked. “No one person, no one politician should be allowed … to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything we fundamentally believe in our country.”
As Paul began the third hour of his filibuster, he shifted from discussing terrorism to government spending. No other senators were in the chamber, except freshman Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin who sat on the rostrum as presiding officer. A Senate stenographer stood just feet from Paul as he spoke from his corner desk, an aide seated to his left. A spokesman for Paul said he was armed with three large binders of material to help him deliver his remarks.
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 Tuesday to forward Brennan’s nomination to the full Senate, a path that senators thought was cleared after the White House agreed to provide all of the Justice Department’s secret legal opinions on killing terrorism suspects abroad, as well records from the September attacks at U.S. diplomatic and intelligence compounds in Benghazi, Libya.
A leadership aide had said the Senate could potentially hold a confirmation vote Wednesday evening, with a 60-vote requirement, a threshold that appeared to be within reach. Paul, a self-described champion of constitutional liberties, had said this week he would delay a vote until the White House assures him it has no authority to target an American within the United States under the drone program. Perhaps because he lacked the support of a sufficient number of colleagues to hold up the vote, Paul instead chose to use his prerogative as a senator to control the floor.
“I have allowed the president to pick his appointees, but I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution,” he said. “I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the president say he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking the country.”
Under Rule XIX of the Senate, senators who have been recognized to speak may do so for as long as they wish and cannot be forced to cede the floor or even interrupted without their consent, according to the Congressional Research Service.
That was traditionally how a filibuster was conducted, but that notion has changed. Instead, a filibuster now describes any procedural move by a Senate minority to block or delay consideration of legislation or appointments, and a senator is not required to the floor to speak.
Such was the case earlier Wednesday when 40 Republican senators voted to block one of President Barack Obama’s appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The last time a talking filibuster occurred was in December 2010, when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke for all but 80 minutes in a nearly nine-hour period to oppose a compromise to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates.
Paul said his effort was not a partisan one. He noted that he voted for John F. Kerry as secretary of state, and for Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, after initially voting to block Hagel’s nomination.
Paul recalled Obama’s previous criticism of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war on terrorism, arguing that if Obama were still in the Senate, he would likely be supporting the effort.
“It amazes and disappoints me how much he has changed,” Paul said.