Paul Launches Filibuster Strike Against Administration’s Drone Policy

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  March 7, 2013 at 9:15 AM EST


Sen. Rand Paul is seen on TV monitors as he participates in a filibuster on the Senate floor Wednesday. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Snowquester may have been a bust, but the filiblizzard provided hours of entertainment.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took the floor at 11:47 a.m. on Wednesday vowing to “speak as long as it takes” to get clarification from the Obama administration on whether it has the authority to use unmanned aerial drones against U.S. citizens on American soil.

Nearly 13 hours later Paul pulled the plug on his old-school filibuster, having delayed a vote on President Barack Obama’s choice for CIA director, John Brennan, until Thursday, and having drawn significant attention to the administration’s drone policy.

“This is not about partisanship,” Paul said during his first hour on the floor. “I have allowed the president to pick his political appointees, but I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution. I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the president say he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking the country.”

Paul was joined in his effort by 10 Senate colleagues: Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, Utah’s Mike Lee, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wyoming’s John Barrasso and fellow Kentuckian and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell announced just after midnight he would oppose Brennan’s nomination, and congratulated Paul for an “extraordinary effort.”

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also spoke in support of Paul’s push for clarity from the administration about its drone program.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., brought Paul an apple and a thermos with green tea, in an apparent homage to provisions used by Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the most famous cinematic representation of the Senate filibuster.

And in what undoubtedly was a first in the history of Senate filibusters, Cruz took to the floor at times to relay reaction from Twitter, the modern day equivalent of reading cooking recipes or the phone book. Cruz informed Paul that the site was “blowing up” over his filibuster and the Kentucky Republican proceeded to thank his colleague from Texas for “cheering” him up him with the feedback.

With more and more of Washington turning their television sets over to C-SPAN to see what Paul was up to, the freshman lawmaker repeatedly hammered home his desire to get a straight answer from the White House.

“I don’t question the president’s motives. I don’t think the president would purposely take innocent people and kill them. I really don’t think he would drop a Hellfire missile on a cafe or a restaurant like I’m talking about. But it bothers me that he won’t say that he won’t,” Paul said. “And it also bothers me that when he was a senator in this body and when he was a candidate, he had a much higher belief and standard for civil liberties, and that he seems to have lost that as he’s become president.”

Paul added: “I have a great deal of concern about this slippery slope of saying that there won’t be accusations, there won’t be trials, that we will just summarily execute people. And the question is, will you execute noncombatants? If he’s not going to, he ought to say so.”

As Wednesday turned into Thursday, Paul said his effort had reached its end. “I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but I’ve discovered that there are some limits to filibustering and I’m going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here,” Paul said.

After leaving the floor, Paul told reporters he hadn’t prepared for the effort, and complained he was thirsty and tired. “I would have worn different shoes,” he added.

Libertarians used the filibuster to highlight a new poll from Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of Reason Magazine. It showed 57 percent think targeted drone killings of American terror suspects are unconstitutional.

Paul’s parliamentary antics were reportedly not a topic of conversation when Mr. Obama gathered with a dozen Republican senators for dinner at the Jefferson Hotel Wednesday night. Multiple news outlets described lawmakers as “optimistic” when leaving the two-hour meeting.

Dinner attendees included: Sens. John McCain, Ariz., Lindsey Graham, S.C., Bob Corker, Tenn., Kelly Ayotte, N.H., Dan Coats, Ind., Tom Coburn, Okla., Richard Burr, N.C., Mike Johanns, Neb., Ron Johnson, Wis., John Hoeven, N.D., Toomey and Chambliss. Johanns and Chambliss have announced they will retire instead of seek re-election in 2014.

McCain and Coburn flashed thumbs-up signs at reporters when leaving the dinner. The meal — which Mr. Obama paid for on his own dime — was part of a multi-pronged charm offensive from the White House after two months of criticizing congressional Republicans for blocking his agenda and harming the middle class.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that he and Mr. Obama spoke this week about entitlement programs. And next week, the president will travel down Pennsylvania Avenue for rare private lunches with each of the four party caucuses, which the White House said Mr. Obama will use to talk about his legislative agenda.

The president has been phoning rank-and-file Republican lawmakers over the last week, as well.

McCain and Graham sounded positive notes last week after meeting with the president at the White House, and Graham said Wednesday the duo had advised Mr. Obama to step up his outreach.

But on Wednesday, at least, the president’s effort to work in a more collaborative fashion with Republican senators did not seem to include fulfilling Paul’s request for answers about the administration’s drone program.

LINE ITEMS

  • Even though bipartisan agreement isn’t quite nailed down, Sen. Chuck Schumer will move forward Thursday with a background check bill as scheduled. Senators stressed it won’t be the final compromise effort.
  • Politico’s Anna Palmer writes that Capitol Hill should ready itself for a full NRA lobbying blitz, and Reid Epstein writes in the paper that gun groups were allowed into the White House with the understanding that they would need to stay quiet.
  • Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski notes that Paul’s filibuster began hours after Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., signaled it might be time to reopen the debate over the procedure as Republicans continue to block presidential appointments even after Senators agreed to modest rule changes at the start of the recent session. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of one of the president’s federal appeals court nominees, New York lawyer Caitlin Halligan.
  • As expected, the continuing resolution to avert a shutdown and keep the government funded another six months cleared the House

Watch our report here or below.

  • North Korea has escalated its regular threats against the United States, this time vowing a preemptive nuclear strike.
  • In a letter to his constituents, House Speaker John Boehner announced that the Capitol building would continue welcoming visitors for public tours. Boehner’s letter was sent to Ohioans whose White House tours were cancelled after the Obama administration announced cuts thanks to the sequester. In the letter, Boehner encouraged families visiting Washington to schedule a visit of the Capitol Building instead using visitthecapitol.gov. But as Roll Call reported Wednesday, sequestration has taken its toll on access to the Capitol building as well.
  • Former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona will join Covington & Burling as a lobbyist.
  • NBC News reported Wednesday that Mitt Romney will join his son Tagg’s investment firm, Solamere Capital, where the former GOP presidential candidate has had an office since the election. Romney will serve as chairman of the executive committee and work as a private equity advisor one week a month. The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser has the full email announcing the move that was sent out to investors Wednesday night.
  • Slate’s John Dickerson argues campaign books are always a bad idea.
  • A new UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll found that Democratic Rep. Ed Markey is the clear frontrunner to the with Massachusetts Senate special election. The veteran House member has a nearly 30-point advantage over his Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Stephen Lynch. Markey also holds substantial leads on all three of his potential Republican challengers.
  • Stu Rothenberg handicaps gubernatorial races for 2014.
  • The Arkansas legislature overrode a veto and gave final passage to a law so restrictive on abortions that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and legal experts call it “blatantly unconstitutional.” They expect it to land in court.
  • Maryland is on track to ban executions.
  • Obama’s campaign manager and national chairman of Organizing for Action Jim Messina writes for CNN that OFA has decided not to accept corporate contributions and that they will disclose all donors who give more than $250 on their website.
  • Jason Horowitz on the media blackout in Vatican City.
  • Remember Grand Forks, N.D., Olive Garden enthusiast Marilyn Hagerty? She’s had one hell of a year.
  • Christina’s Spring just got a whole lot better.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA asks where have all the pensions gone. Twice as many workers have 401(k) plans instead of traditional pensions.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

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Katelyn Polantz and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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