It’s an iconic moment in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: a young, earnest Jimmy Stewart filibusters for hours, to the point of physical collapse, in order to prevent the Senate from passing an utterly corrupt piece of legislation. Rand Paul took a page from this classic piece of Hollywood Americana and made it real. As the Washington Times reported:
After years in the shadows, the administration’s secret drone program burst into very public view Wednesday with lawmakers grilling the attorney general over legal justification for targeted killings and Sen. Rand Paul launching an old-style one-man filibuster to demand answers from President Obama.
The Kentucky Republican held the floor for hours, effectively blocking a vote on the nomination of John O. Brennan, whom Mr. Obama has tapped to be CIA director. He said he would relent only if the administration publicly vowed not to target Americans on U.S. soil.
As Paul’s filibuster picked up speed, private emails, tweets, and Facebook posts flooded Mr. Conservative’s airways. By the end of Paul’s epic 12 hour and 50 minute filibuster, which included reading from Alice in Wonderland, the verdict was in:
“History is being made. Are you watching?” — private email
“I stand with Rand. What a country!” — Facebook post
“Rand Paul is starting to look like an important figure in history.” — Facebook post
“Thank you, SenRandPaul for literally standing up for liberty!” — tweet from John Maniscalco @JohnRManiscalco
“Rand Paul. Stud. #StandWithRand” — tweet from Kurt Schlichter @KurtSchlichter
“Rand Paul schooled the Senate and the country tonight.” Laura Ingraham @IngrahamAngle
That sampling of just six highly approving statements comes from a pool of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of tweets and Facebook posts generated by delighted conservatives.
When Paul began his marathon run on the Senate floor, jaded politicians were unimpressed by what even Republicans viewed as a bit of political showboating. After three hours, though, Republicans realized that they’d better get on the train or get out of the way. One after another, they pledged their support to Paul as they made their way to the Senate floor.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was the first to get on board. “Americans have every reason to be concerned any time the government wants to intrude on life, liberty or prosperity. We’re talking here about the sanctity of human life.”
Lee was soon joined by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). to his credit, Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.) added his stamp of approval to Paul’s efforts, saying he “appreciated” that Paul was attempting to draw attention to the issue.
The issue in question is the fact that the Obama administration has given itself permission to use drones on American soil, in situations both real and hypothetical. In response to a letter Paul sent him asking about drone use on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder had conceded that there were hypothetical situations in which the executive office would have the right and the power to use a drone attack against an American citizen on American soil:
As members of this Administration have previously indicated, the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter, moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. . . .
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstances in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on his scope and authority.
Paul was not appeased by Holder’s statement that the president would use drones to executive people on American soil only in the event of a 9/11 type attack — that is, if the war was brought to America, rather than America heading overseas to a war. Instead, Paul insisted that said he would only stop his filibuster when the president or Attorney General Eric Holder “put that in words” that they “will not kill non-enemy combatants” inside the United States.
Although Paul did not get such a statement from either the president or Holder, he did manage to derail Sen. Leader Harry Reid’s plan to go forward with the vote on John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. After five hours, Reid gave up and terminated proceedings for the day. He expressed the hope that a vote on Brennan could go forward on Thursday.
Conservatives are very dubious about Brennan’s nomination. During hearings, he showed himself to be both more intelligent and more capable than either John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State, or Chuck Hagel, who is now Secretary of Defense.
Brennan’s loyalties, however, are suspect. He spent many years in Saudi Arabia and seems to be almost too comfortable with that country, to the point that a rumors circulated claiming that he is a convert to Islam. To the extent that conservatives side with Israel, which is a free, and democratic society that strongly supports America, while Brennan’s allegiance seems to be to a series of Middle Eastern tyrannies that are extremely hostile to America, as well as to women, gays, Bahais, Christians, Jews, atheists, etc., having Brennan serve as head of the CIA is suboptimal.
The last time the Senate saw this type of “speaking” filibuster was in 2010 when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Ver.) held the floor for eight hours protesting legislation aimed at extending the Bush-era tax cuts. In defense of the fact that he lasted almost five hours less than Paul, Sanders is (and was then) a much older man.
It remains to be seen whether Paul’s heroics will have any effect on Brennan’s ultimate nomination (which most Republicans concede will happen whether they like it or not) or on the administration’s putative right to use drones on American soil. What is certain is that he has greatly raised his profile with American conservatives, libertarians and, possibly, undecideds.
Although he hasn’t said so explicitly, Paul has made no secret of the fact that he is eying a presidential run in 2016. He’s tried to position himself as the main Washington D.C. spokesman for Tea Party interests (small government conservativism) and has worked hard to allay conservative Jews’ fears that he shares his father’s (Ron Paul’s) apparent dislike for Israel — a dislike that attracted an unnerving number of neo-Nazi types to Ron Paul’s failed presidential bid. If Paul is looking to bolster himself in conservative eyes, today’s performance, which challenged an administration that is greedy for executive power and generally expanded government, was a very good start.
(Written by Bookworm; originally posted at Mr. Conservative.)
UPDATE: Power Line suggests that there may be more than a little (extreme) libertarian opportunism in Paul’s filibuster. Having read what they have to say. Paul made wonderful points about liberty and small government, but he made those points in the service of the wrong cause.