Senators expect more 'talking filibusters' after Rand Paul marathon

Senators in both parties say the success of Sen. Rand Paul’s old-fashioned filibuster Wednesday will inspire others to try the same stunt.

Paul made headlines with his “talking filibuster” on drones and scored several public relations coups.

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He won a new letter Thursday from Attorney General Eric Holder answering his questions, and watching as other senators — including GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — either joined his one-man effort or praised him for drawing attention to his issue.

“I thought it was pretty effective and so I think you probably will see more of them,” said Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas).

Several senators expressed admiration a day after Paul’s filibuster that he provoked other members from both parties to listen to him from the chamber and to even enter the debate.

Freshman Democrat Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said she thinks that will mean more traditional filibusters, and counts it as a good thing.

“I actually hope so because I think a lot was accomplished by people standing up and listening,” she told The Hill. “I sat in the chair for a lot of the filibuster and I learned a lot and really enjoyed watching the debate.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said a key moment was the appearance near the filibuster’s end by Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat. He said Durbin’s decision to join in the debate — even after Paul has successfully delayed for a day a confirmation vote on President Obama’s pick to lead the CIA — was constructive.

“This is the first time this has happened in two and a half or three years, and I expect to see more of this from time to time,” said Lee, one of several GOP senators who helped Paul slog through the day.

Lee and several others said Paul's filibuster harkens back to a time when issues were openly debated in the Senate, instead of having senators speak to themselves in an empty chamber.

“This is something that the Senate could be, that it used to be, that it arguably should be,” Lee said.

Paul started his filibuster at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday, and ended it at 12:39 a.m. the next day.

John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, was successfully confirmed Thursday, but Paul’s filibuster wasn’t really meant to block Brennan permanently.

It was to draw attention to the issue of drones, and force Holder to say whether the U.S. has the authority to use drones to attack American citizens on U.S. soil. By Thursday afternoon, Holder wrote a two-sentence letter that ended by saying, "The answer to that question is no."

Paul’s PR success is what will likely stick in the memories of most senators. Paul started alone, but by the end he was visited by more than a dozen senators, and egged on by thousands on Twitter who begged him not to sit down.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called on other GOP senators to help Paul, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee featured the filibuster on its website and received 5,000 “likes” on Facebook in less than 30 minutes. Competition erupted on Twitter for the most clever hashtag to use in tweets.

The cascade of attention is likely turning wheels in the brains of other Senate staffers wanting to rejuvenate what is sometimes stale Senate procedure — and to bring attention to their own bosses.

But it's unclear how easily Paul’s success could be reproduced.

Jim Manley, who served as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) spokesman for many years, said that while he respects Paul for taking a stand on an issue, he worries that new senators may try to mimic it too frequently, which could slow the Senate’s business.

“As a long-time observer of the Senate, I am concerned that some members, especially some of the freshman Republicans, are going to take the exact wrong example out of this,” he told The Hill.

If senators use the talking filibuster too much, it will likely get less public attention. It could also lead other senators to seek to change Senate rules to limit their use.

Democrats are already blaming Republicans for using the non-talking filibuster too much. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who pulled off the last lengthy filibuster in 2010, seemed to welcome Paul's attempt at it, but mostly because Paul was talking.

“I think this highlights what a filibuster is about and that's somebody getting down and willing to sacrifice for his or her view,” Sanders said. “The contrast of that is what we've seen time and time again is somebody putting a hold on legislation and demanding 60 votes.”

The sense of comity that senators try to preserve is one reason why some predicted the talking filibuster will not become a trend.

“I don't think so,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked if it would happen more. “I think last night was a pretty unusual situation and I wouldn't expect to be.”

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said it might be used a little more, but said: “I can't imagine that you're going to see this become a weekly event, that's for sure.”

As a technical matter, they may be right. Despite the enduring myth, talking filibusters no longer have the power to forever hold back legislation to which the minority objects. If they had that power, legislation such as Dodd-Frank or the healthcare law could have easily been stalled forever by Senate Republicans.

Under the 1917 Senate rule allowing for cloture motions, or motions to end debate, 16 senators can present a cloture motion at any time.

So, if the votes are there, and the issue is important enough, the talking filibuster doesn't really stop anything. If Democrats had filed their motion Wednesday, Paul could have spoken for no more than 30 hours.

Thursday morning, Manley's former boss gave Paul credit for his stamina and for winning publicity after a night in which there was rampant Twitter speculation as to whether Paul was wearing a catheter (Paul said later he was not).

“I have been involved in a few filibusters, as Rand Paul did [Wednesday],” Reid said. “And what I have learned from my experiences with talking filibusters is this: to succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder. It's obvious Senator Paul has both.”