Rebecca Fisher, ’14
Last Wednesday, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul stood for nearly thirteen hours on the Senate floor, stating “I will speak until I can no longer speak.” A self-described champion of constitutional liberties, Paul was using the filibuster to delay a vote on John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA. During his time on the floor, he focused on the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes on suspected terrorists, and whether the White House would use this mode of warfare to target American citizens within the United States and US territories.
Paul elaborated on his point: “When I asked the president, ‘Can you kill an American on American soil,’ it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, ‘No.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, ‘I haven’t killed anyone yet.’ He goes on to say, ‘And I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might.’ Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that?”
Senator Paul’s individual effort to delay Brennan’s nomination resulted in a team of senators announcing that they would also vote against Brennan’s confirmation, and push for greater oversight of the administration’s actions. Hours earlier, Brennan appeared to be on a smooth path to head the CIA. With a vote of 12 to 3 by the Senate Intelligence Committee, his nomination moved to the full Senate. His Senate nomination proceeded only after the White House agreed to release confidential Justice Department positions on the killings of suspected terrorists by drone strikes overseas to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The contents of these files pushed Senator Paul to take action and delay Brennan’s confirmation hearing through filibuster.
Unsure of whether he initially had enough senators to delay the nomination using typical deferment tactics, Sen. Paul resorted to a more traditional response. A talk-until-you-drop filibuster, rare in recent Congressional proceedings, was used in accordance with Senate rules that allow the speaker to talk uninterrupted for as long as he feels appropriate. The speaker is required to stay on the floor, but can yield to questions, allowing him or her some relief from their colleagues.
“I have allowed the president to pick his appointees, but I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution,” Paul said in his speech. “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.”
What, at first, seemed like a fruitless effort by Paul sparked action not only from his fellow peers, but also from the American public. In an unforeseen response, Twitter exploded with people tweeting their support of Paul and other Senate Republicans as they demanded the President to answer whether drone strikes can be used against American citizens. The hashtag #StandWithRand began trending globally, as tweets from all sides of the political spectrum flooded in. This unprecedented response from the American public raised the question of whether the seemingly old fashioned filibuster is the perfect opportunity to incorporate the American people in the political sphere.
Sen. Rand Paul’s success on the Senate floor created not only a debate between his fellow Senators, but also a national conversation. Frankly, a conversation that was long overdue. Whatever your position on this issue, we can all agree that this conversation should not come to an end after only thirteen hours.