Paul's filibuster seizes the day

An unusual scene played out Wednesday on the Senate floor as an old-fashioned talking filibuster was waged against President Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA.

At first the filibuster, staged by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.), was greeted with skepticism. For the first three hours, he railed alone against Obama’s refusal to rule out drone strikes on American soil.

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“I’m here to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination to be director of CIA,” Paul announced, later vowing: “I will speak for as long as it takes.” 

But as the day went on, one Republican senator after another pledged support to Paul’s cause and made their way down to the Senate floor.

“Americans have every reason to be concerned any time the government wants to intrude on life, liberty or prosperity,” said Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans urge probe into Amazon government cloud-computing bid: report Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Utah), who was the first Republican to join Paul’s filibuster. “We’re talking here about the sanctity of human life.”


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Republican Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (Texas), John CornynJohn CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel MORE (Texas), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Crist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job MORE (Fla.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Live coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia MORE (Ga.) and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoRepublican seeks to use Obama energy policies to criticize Biden  EPA proposes major rule to reduce certain greenhouse gases Republicans hammer Biden on infrastructure while administration defends plan MORE (Wyo.) added more voices to Paul’s crusade, hammering the Obama administration’s ambiguous responses to direct questions about the armed drone program.  

Even a Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPutting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states Pallone commits to using 'whatever vehicle I can' to pass Democrats' drug pricing bill MORE (Ore.), got in on the act, saying he “appreciated” Paul’s attempt to draw attention to the issue.

“Every American has the right to know when their government believes they have the right to kill them,” Wyden said.

By mid-afternoon, major news sites were splashing Paul’s filibuster across their homepages and tracking it with live updates and video. “Randpage,” declared the conservative Drudge Report. “Revolt!” blared the liberal Huffington Post. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (D-Nev.) had hoped to have a confirmation vote for Brennan on Wednesday so that lawmakers could leave town and avoid travel delays from an expected snowstorm in the District.

But Paul was unyielding, and said he would not stop his filibuster until the president or Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderFirst redistricting lawsuits filed by Democratic group On The Trail: Census data kicks off the biggest redistricting fight in American history Voter suppression bills are the first move in a bigger battle MORE “put that in words” that they “will not kill non-enemy combatants” inside the United States.

“I will speak today until the president says, ‘no,’ he will not kill you at a café,” Paul said.

Nearly five hours into Paul’s filibuster, Reid threw in the towel, and said he hoped for a Thursday vote on Brennan’s nomination. “We’ll just finish this matter tomorrow,” Reid said. “We’re through for the night.” 

Without unanimous consent, a final vote on Brennan could be pushed to next week.

Cruz commended Paul and other senators for “standing here today like a modern-day ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ ” and said his only regret was that more lawmakers weren’t making the same effort.

Paul yielded the floor to applause at 12:39 a.m. on Thursday after nearly 13 hours. 

Paul said he would have liked to have gone another 12 hours to break the record of former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), but Paul need to “take care of something you can’t put off in a filibuster,” referring to using the restroom.

“I’m hopeful that we have drawn attention to this issue, that this issue will not fade away, and that the president will come up with a response,” Paul said in his closing remarks.

The last talking filibuster in the Senate took place in 2010, when Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders on Cheney drama: GOP is an 'anti-democratic cult' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden campaign promises will struggle if Republicans win back Congress Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers MORE (I-Vt.) held the Senate floor for eight hours in protest of an agreement to extend Bush-era tax rates. That fiery speech has become known as the “Filibernie” in Washington lore.

The day before Paul’s filibuster, the Senate Intelligence Committee in a 12-3 vote approved Brennan’s nomination and sent it to the full Senate. Wyden and Rubio, who are both members of that panel, voted to advance the nominee.  

A quick confirmation vote had seemed likely until Paul stepped in. Instead, a growing number of senators are demanding more information from the White House about the secretive armed drone program.

“I have been dumbfounded” at the White House’s inability to provide “a straightforward answer” on the drone program and its implications for operations inside the U.S., Chambliss said. 

“We need the right information to ask the right questions,” Chambliss said, adding he would vote against Brennan’s confirmation when it comes before the full Senate.

“Congress and the public need to know what the rules are,” particularly when U.S. citizens are the target of lethal strikes, Wyden added. 

“That’s not what our American democracy is about,” Wyden said. 

GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE (Ariz.) had also considered blocking Brennan’s bid due to unanswered questions about last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Graham said Wednesday that he would not block Brennan over the Benghazi attack, but would continue to press the issue in future hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Congressional opposition to the drone program began in February, when leaked Justice Department documents claimed the CIA and the Department of Defense have the legal right to take out terror suspects via drone strikes, even if those suspects happen to be U.S. citizens. 

Paul said he wants Obama to define what standards would be used to justify a drone strike against an American on U.S. soil. Paul pointed to Vietnam War protesters who vocally sympathized with the enemy and questioned whether sympathizing was justification enough for the warrantless killing.

“Is objection to the policy of your government sympathizing with the enemy?” Paul said. “Are you just going to drop a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?” referring to the actress’s prominent anti-war stance during the Vietnam conflict.

“There are a lot of questions that are not being asked. ... I think there is a difference between sympathizing and taking up arms,” Paul said. 

Holder attempted to soothe Paul’s concerns on Tuesday, saying the White House “has no intention” of launching drone strikes on American soil. 

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In a letter sent to Paul, Holder said the White House “rejects the use of military force” inside the U.S. when “well-established law enforcement authorities” exist. 

“The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront,” Holder wrote. 

That said, the attorney general did not dismiss outright the possible use of military force on American soil in the face of a “catastrophic attack” like 9/11. 

“Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts ... before advising the president on the scope of his authority.” Holder said.

Before Wednesday’s filibuster, several Senate Republicans anticipated a much smoother ride for Brennan’s confirmation, compared to the partisan battle to confirm Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack Trump Afghan pullout deal unachievable, says ex-Pentagon leader MORE

“I am sure there is going to be some opposition, but I do not think it is going to be as intense as it was with Secretary Hagel,” Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (R-Maine) told The Hill last week. 

“I think everyone feels Brennan is qualified — they may not like him, but he is qualified,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley asks Blinken to provide potential conflicts involving John Kerry Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (R-Iowa) said at the time. 

— Jeremy Herb contributed to this report. 


— Updated at 12:47 a.m. on Thursday.