WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican senator and tea party favorite from Kentucky used an old-style filibuster lasting nearly 13 hours to take control of the chamber and block Senate confirmation of John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director.
Sen. Rand Paul ended his filibuster Thursday shortly after midnight, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Kentucky Republican, said he would continue to oppose Brennan’s confirmation and resist ending the debate on President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the spy agency.
Paul’s performance, which centered on questions about the possible use of drones against targets in the United States, clearly energized a number of his GOP colleagues, who came to the floor in a show of support and to share in the speaking duties. And even as the night progressed, Paul appeared invigorated despite being on his feet for so long. Actual talking filibusters have become rare in the Senate, where the rules are typically used in procedural ways to block the other party’s agenda.
After Paul yielded the floor, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., filed a motion to cut off debate on Brennan’s nomination, setting up a vote for later this week.
Paul, a critic of Obama’s drone policy, started just before noon Wednesday by demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring that the aircraft would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens. But by the time he left the Senate floor, Paul said he’d received no response.
Paul wasn’t picky about the format, saying at one point he’d be happy with a telegram or a Tweet. Paul said he recognized he can’t stop Brennan from being confirmed. But the nomination was the right vehicle for a debate over what the Obama White House believes are the limits of the federal government’s ability to conduct lethal operations against suspected terrorists, he said.
“No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner,” Paul said.
The Obama administration has said it has not conducted such operations inside U.S. borders, nor does it intend to. Paul and backers said that wasn’t good enough. They wanted the White House to rule out the possibility of them happening altogether.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee used Paul’s stand to raise money for GOP candidates and said Thursday that they received donations “in the high five figures as of last tally.”
About a dozen of Paul’s colleagues who share his conservative views came to the floor to take turns speaking for him and trading questions. McConnell congratulated Paul for his “tenacity and for his conviction,” and he called Brennan a “controversial nominee.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read Twitter messages from people eager to “Stand With Rand.” The Twitterverse, said Cruz, is “blowing up.” And as the night went on, Cruz spoke for longer periods as Paul leaned against a desk across the floor. Cruz, an insurgent Republican with strong tea party backing, read passages from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and lines from the 1970 movie “Patton,” starring George C. Scott.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made references to rappers Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa. Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, chided the White House for failing to respond to Paul. “It’s not a Republican question. It’s not a conservative question,” Rubio said. “It’s a constitutional question.”
The tea party-backed Paul first stepped onto the national stage in 2010 when he vanquished McConnell’s chosen Senate candidate in a GOP primary in Kentucky. Since then, he’s reveled in the popularity he has with the tea party and inherited his father’s libertarian-leaning political network, built over two failed Ron Paul presidential runs. All that has stoked belief inside GOP circles that he may be positioning himself for a future national campaign, possibly as early as 2016.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Paul read from notebooks filled with articles about the expanded use of the unmanned weapons that have become the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s campaign against al-Qaida suspects overseas. As he moved about the Senate floor, aides brought him glasses of water, which he barely touched. Senate rules say a senator has to remain on the floor to continue to hold it, even though he can yield to another senator for a question.
Not all Republicans were as enthusiastic about Paul’s performance. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the prospect of drones being used to kill people in the United States was “ridiculous” and he called the debate “paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified.”