Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday morning and announced that he was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director. As he began, reported The Washington Post, he said:
“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.”
Twelve hours and 52 minutes later, Paul yielded the floor and the Senate adjourned. But for nearly 13 hours, Paul spoke, with the help of six other senators who asked long, rambling questions to give him short breaks. He covered the Constitution, U.S. history, presidential power, and drones. While his focus was primarily on the narrow question of whether the president has the legal authority to order a drone strike against a U.S. citizen in this country, some of the broader questions surrounding the drone program were also raised. And while Paul noted that he would not stop Brennan’s confirmation, he did delay it a day. A vote is now scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Beyond the specific subject of drones, the filibuster was a lesson on what the filibuster has historically meant – a way for a minority view to heard on an issue of passionate concern. Filibustering today has become simply filing a piece of paper stating the intention to do so, thereby blocking the Senate from even considering something until there are 61 votes to proceed. As Greg Sargent succinctly put it in a Washington Post blog:
“The very fact that Paul’s filibuster (one built on genuine convictions surrounding real issues that were fully aired in public) was treated as so extraordinary is a reminder of the degree to which we’ve accepted nonstop secret filibustering (which has become nothing more than a tool for partisan across-the-board obstructionism) as entirely ordinary.”
After nearly 10 years of operating in nearly complete secrecy, the killing by drone program is now in the spotlight. Yesterday, Rand Paul made sure that the light got brighter.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Adviser for Sojourners.