Rand Paul's filibuster shows the best of the Senate
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 23:03
On Wednesday we witnessed the Senate doing what it was meant to do: debating for hours on end issues of national importance.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched a filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to the CIA, and did not plan on ending the filibuster until he got an official written answer from the Obama administration on the question “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?”
Paul had been asking the administration for an answer to this question for weeks, and his concern had even become bipartisan after Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon joined in on the effort last week.
Paul’s filibuster was the rare issue that got strong support from both Rush Limbaugh and far-left anti-war protesters Code Pink. Civil libertarians on both sides of the aisle gathered together to support this historic and rare senatorial event.
This was unusual even among other talking filibusters. Most senators have to break out the phone books or cookbooks or other inane reading material to stretch out their speech. But Paul was able to go the entire time without personally straying very far from the main point.
He read articles on the topic of drone strikes, he took questions from supportive senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. While Cruz did spend a good half hour reading tweets supportive of Rand Paul’s filibuster (under the guise of asking the question “Is the Senator from Kentucky aware of how much support he is getting from the American people?”), and spent another hour or so giving a speech that quoted Shakespeare, “Patton,” and much more (again all as part of a very long question), the content was all relevant to the question at hand.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) even found a way to work in quotes from rappers Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z while asking one of his questions, which is surely a first for the U.S. Senate.
The best part of the night occurred toward the end, when Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois actually engaged Paul in a true debate, asking him difficult questions on the issue. This kind of spirited, extended debate on policy is something the Senate sees all too rarely.
The filibuster is often held up by reformers as one of the worst parts about Congress, but the “talking” filibuster displayed Wednesday showed the Senate at its best.
The drama of the event drew in viewers across the world. The hashtag #StandWithRand was trending worldwide on Twitter, as Cruz pointed out during one of his questions.
Paul lasted nearly 13 hours in the end, falling almost 11 hours short of the all time record set by Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1957. Many had hoped that he would beat that record, so that the record could be held by someone fighting for something noble, instead of against a landmark Civil Rights bill. But while he didn’t make it quite that long, he did give the ninth longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history.
Most importantly, his filibuster accomplished its goal. In a written letter released Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder finally admitted that no, the president doesn’t have that authority. Congratulations on a job well done, Senator.
Keene is a junior majoring in political science, economics and public policy.