(WASHINGTON) — With federal offices shut down due to snow and John Brennan poised to be confirmed as CIA Director, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, considered an outspoken libertarian, did plenty of speaking as he engaged in a traditional, and increasingly rare, talking filibuster on Wednesday.
In modern Washington, the threat of a filibuster has become enough to require an issue to get 60 votes of support instead of 51.
Paul didn’t have 40 votes to block Brennan’s confirmation, but he wanted to make a point about the White House adviser who is seen as architect of the administration’s policy regarding unmanned drones used to kill suspected terrorists in foreign countries. A vote to make Brennan CIA Director could come as soon as Wednesday.
To Rand Paul, the Obama administration’s targeted killing program – the use of drones to bomb suspected terrorists in foreign lands – is an issue. His concern hit a new level on Monday when his office released a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder explaining that the administration feels it has the power, in an unlikely and hypothetical situation, to kill Americans on U.S. soil to avert an imminent terror attack.
“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA,” Paul declared at about 11:47 a.m. ET Wednesday. “I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination. it is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.”
Paul said he doesn’t necessarily think President Obama will abuse the power to use domestic drones. However, he says, no president should have the power to kill Americans in the U.S. without a trial by jury.
Here is an excerpt from Paul’s filibuster:
“When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, ‘no.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, I haven’t killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might. Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that? Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans? But he will judge the circumstances, he will be the sole arbiter, he will be the sole decider, he will be the executioner in chief if he sees fit. Now, some would say he would never do this. Many people give the president the — you know, they give him consideration, they say he’s a good man. I’m not arguing he’s not. What I’m arguing is that the law is there and set in place for the day when angels don’t rule government.”
In recent years, a filibuster has been accepted as any time the minority party blocks something that could be passed by the majority. Senators agreed earlier this year to a series of rule changes that would cut down on the time it takes to move through these procedural roadblocks while preserving the minority’s right to object.
Paul is certainly in the minority on the issue of drones and targeted killing. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in February of 2012 found that 83 percent of Americans support the program. Paul believes that the program is so shrouded in secrecy that people don’t know enough about it. Drawing attention to that issue is a stated goal of his filibuster Wednesday.
This traditional form of filibuster, however, is doomed to fail. The human body can only go on so long. Paul promised to talk until he couldn’t talk any more, but admitted, “Ultimately I will not win; there are not enough votes.”
After more than three hours of talking, Paul was relieved by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Lee, along with Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, gave Paul a break during the fourth hour of the largely symbolic debate.
The most recent talking filibuster came from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who spent some eight hours filibustering a tax bill in 2010.
The record for longest talking filibuster goes to former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond. Thurmond, who died in 2003, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes.
It is not clear if Paul’s filibuster will last that long. Fox News host Lou Dobbs tweeted just before 2 p.m. ET, that Paul would be joining him on his show, which starts at 7 p.m. ET.
Considering the bipartisan support for Brennan’s nomination, there is little doubt that he will ultimately be confirmed.
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