Rand Paul Stands Up, Takes a Step Forward

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., leaves the floor of the Senate after his filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Thursday, March 7, 2013. Senate Democrats pushed Wednesday for speedy confirmation of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director but ran into a snag after Paul began a lengthy speech over the legality of potential drone strikes on U.S. soil. But Paul stalled the chamber to start what he called a filibuster of Brennan's nomination. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Paul finally steps away from the floor, manages not to tackle reporters on his way to the bathroom. Photo: Charles Dharapak

A few hours into his thirteen-hour filibuster on Wednesday, Rand Paul acknowledged that he can’t prevent John Brennan from becoming head of the CIA, saying, Ultimately I can’t win. There’s not enough votes.” Yet, overall the stunt was a massive success for the Kentucky senator. Aside from accomplishing his stated goal of drawing more attention to the Obama administration’s suggestion that it has the right to take out a U.S. citizens on American soil in a drone attack (though Attorney General Eric Holder says they probably won’t), Rand drew bipartisan support and ensured that he’d be featured on every news program along with clips from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — which is definitely a plus for a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

After leaving the floor shortly before 1 a.m. on Thursday, Paul claimed that he began the day with no intention of starting a filibuster, but an opportunity to gain control of the floor presented itself. “I hadn’t planned on it,” he said, according to Politico. “I didn’t wear my most comfortable shoes or anything. I would have worn different shoes.” (As The Wall Street Journal notes, “For an impromptu filibuster, Mr. Paul appeared prepared, carrying a large binder of articles and background reports on the subject of lethal U.S. force.”)

Paul managed to gain momentum both inside and outside of the Senate chamber as his energy dwindled and the inevitable bathroom break drew closer. A small group of senators, led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, helped Paul throughout the day, but GOP aides tell BuzzFeed that Senate Republicans who initially dismissed the filibuster as a  futile effort decided to come to the floor as it gained more attention in the media and on Twitter. Marco Rubio made an attention-grabbing cameo, quoting The Godfather, the rapper Wiz Khalifa, and “that modern-day poet by the name of Jay-Z.” Around midnight, Mitch McConnell joined in, praising Paul for his “tenacity and conviction” and announcing that he’ll oppose Brennan’s confirmation.

Though Paul has always been a divisive figure, standing up for a really long time to defend Americans’ civil liberties proved to be something both parties can rally behind. Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden joined the filibuster (though he said he planned to vote for Brennan) and Paul also enjoyed a brief reprieve from liberal pundits; Jon Stewart called drone oversight “certainly worth kicking up a fuss for,” and Paul was Rachel Maddow’s “Best New Thing in the World Today” (though she wasn’t a fan of his “gratuitous Hitler references” on the floor).

The Obama administration has yet to comment on the filibuster, though Paul said his staffers were talking with White House officials throughout the day, and they promised they’d make a statement on Thursday. As for the old-fashioned talking filibuster, Paul said, “I don’t think it’s a regular occurrence.” However, now that members of Congress know they can raise their national profile by resisting the urge to use the bathroom for thirteen hours, we’ll be surprised if more of them don’t try.