Rand Paul appears on screen at the US Capitol as he filibusters on the Senate floor against CIA nominee John Brennan. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
When the Senate organizes itself every two years, the members set the rules for the coming term. This year, a number of senators—along with citizens and commentators from across the country—argued unsuccessfully for filibuster reform. Frustrated by delays in consideration of policies and nominations, supporters of the reform argued that the rules had to change in order to get a dysfunctional Senate functioning.
But it is important to note that reformers did not seek an end to the filibuster.
Rather, the goal was the restoration of the filibuster as it was historically known—as a “talking filibuster” that requires a dissenting senator to speak his objections, hour after hour, into the congressional record.
That’s what Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did Wednesday, after announcing to the Senate, “I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA. 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,”
The freshman Republican’s filibuster of the Brennan nomination lasted from 11:47 Wednesday morning until 12:39 Thursday morning, clocking in at just under thirteen hours.
It wasn’t quite a reprise of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 1939 film in which Senator Jefferson Smith took on the political bosses with what a radio announcer described as “democracy’s finest show.”
Yet, this was a genuine filibuster, not merely in style but in content.
Of course, as is often the case with talking filibusters, there was a measure of grandstanding and over-the-top speechifying — not to mention assertions that have already drawn disagreement from not just Democrats but Republicans such as Arizona Senator John McCain. And there can be no question that some of the Republicans who were cheering Paul on undoubtedly cared more about griping generally with regard to the Obama administration than restoring a pristine separation of powers.