Rand Paul Ends Epic Mr. Smith-Style Filibuster

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 7 2013 12:45 AM

Rand Paul Ends Epic Mr. Smith-Style Filibuster After More Than 12 Hours

Sen. Rand Paul on the Senate floor
Sen. Rand Paul on the Senate floor

Screen shot from C-SPAN 2

Update: Sen. Rand Paul ended his old-school talking filibuster at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning, after nearly 13 hours standing on the floor. "I would try to go another 12 hours and try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but there are some limits to filibustering and I am going to have to go take care of one of those here," the Kentucky Republican said shortly before calling it quits.

Sen. Dick Durbin was waiting in the wings to introduce a motion to end debate, meaning the Senate is all but certain to confirm John Brennan as the CIA director sometime Thursday. While Paul never got the Obama administration to state definitively that it doesn't have the right to "kill an American on American soil," he and a handful of his colleagues managed to dominate the news cycle for much of the day, bringing added attention to the president's drone policy.

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At 12 hours and 52 minutes, Paul's (mostly) one-man show was the longest talking filibuster in recent history. Still, it was only a little more than halfway to the record of 24-plus hours set by Strom Thurmond while opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

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Update 8:51 p.m.: He's. Still. Going. We're now past the nine-hour mark.

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Update 5:28 p.m.: Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and the awesomely named Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) have also made brief appearances to pose questions to Rand Paul to give him short breathers. Those questions are pretty much statements with a question-mark tacked on the end, but they nonetheless have helped the Kentucky Republican continue his filibuster of John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also came to the floor a few moments ago, although for the opposite reason. His half-hearted attempt to move on to the cloture vote was quickly blocked by Paul. With the filibuster now in its sixth hour, it looks like Paul has pushed Brennan's confirmation off by at least a day. (The all-knowing C-SPAN chyron now tells us, "Possible Tomorrow: Vote on Brennan Nomination.")

Paul says that he'll speak either until he can't speak any more or until the Obama administration states definitively that it doesn't have the right to "kill an American on American soil." In the end, Paul's effort aren't going to stop Brennan's confirmation, but they have nonetheless dominated a slow news day inside the Beltway, and thrust the administration's drone policy back into the headlines. You can watch here.

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Update 4:02 p.m.: Add two more to the list of those senators helping Rand Paul stall: Kansas Republican Jerry Moran and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. Wyden plans to vote for Brennan's confirmation but just said on the floor that he shares some of Paul's concerns about the administration's targeted-killing policy. Regardless of Wyden's general support for Brennan, the filibuster has now gone bipartisan. We've now crossed the four-hour mark ...

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Update 3:10 p.m.: Rand Paul is being careful not to officially yield the floor (something that would bring an end to his old-school filibuster), but he is allowing others to weigh in with short comments. First it was Utah's Mike Lee. About 10 minutes later, Texas Republican Ted Cruz arrived to get in on the action as well. Let's just say Paul's efforts aren't going unnoticed.

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Update 3 p.m.:  After speaking for more than three hours, Paul tapped out temporarily, tagging in his fellow Republican senator, Mike Lee of Utah, for a few remarks. As the C-SPAN chyron helpfully tells us, "Possible Today: Vote on Brennan Nomination." That's starting to look less likely now that Paul has found at least one other lawmaker to share the talking burden.

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Original Post 1:36 p.m.: The Kentucky Republican took to the floor at about 11:45 a.m. and has shown no signs of stopping. He's promised to speak until he can't speak anymore, so we'll see how long he can keep this up. Paul has a few notes on hand to keep him mostly on topic (drones!), but appears largely to be improvising as he goes, leading to off-the-cuff remarks about everything from Kent State to the French Revolution. You can follow along over at C-SPAN, which has the live-feed.

Paul and his allies don't have the 41 votes they need to block a cloture vote (translation: how the vast majority of modern-day filibusters happen) that is the only thing standing in the way of John Brennan's confirmation as the new director of the CIA. That said, Senate rules and decorum allow the senator to keep speaking for as long as he chooses, and as long as he's doing that, the upper chamber remains in a holding pattern.

Of course, it's only been two hours so far, so Paul has a long way to go before he even approaches the talking-filibuster legends of old. Strom Thurmond once spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, according to the Senate archives. If nothing else, Paul's throwback speech is sure to capture the attention of the Beltway, bringing more scrutiny to the Obama administration's drone policy.

This post was updated with additional information.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.