It had its own hashtag, trending on twitter. It halted the confirmation of a widely supported, experienced counterterrorism advisor to the Central Intelligence Agency – an institution almost begging for someone with those credentials to be at its helm. It was called the ‘filiblizzard,’ and it was, kind of, beautiful.
Though our country’s lengthiest filibuster on record was Strom Thurmond’s 25-hour long rant against the 1957 Civil Rights Act, tonight’s nearly 13-hour effort was for more commendable goals. Rand Paul started the night saying that he would speak until “[he could] no longer speak.” And with a tag-team effort of other senators, including Marco Rubio and Ronald Wyden, who asked him ‘questions’ so that he technically did not have to cede the floor, Paul successfully staved off the nomination of John O. Brennan to the directorship of the CIA.
Why did he do this? Surprisingly, the main impetus was not any beef with Brennan specifically. Though obviously Rand disagreed with Brennan’s support for drone strikes in undeclared war zones like Yemen and Somalia, and Brennan’s not-so-consistent stance on torture, Paul’s pontification tonight was to stick to a promise he made to the Obama Administration a few days ago. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Rand Paul in response to a question on whether or not the executive branch could unilaterally kill an American citizen in the U.S. without due process. In the letter, Holder advised against it as a policy measure when other, better options were present (saying nothing about its ultimate legality). He also said that in the wake of a terrorist attack, he could see himself possibly advising the President to use this power he apparently has (note: this in the wake of, not to prevent one). Not surprisingly, it is exactly in times of turmoil that the executive ‘gains’ these powers; and it’s kind of the point of the Constitution to limit these infringements when it gets tough to limit them.
So due to this vagueness, and due to Holder’s reticence at the prospect of always upholding the 5th amendment, Rand Paul promised to filibuster Brennan (who supports these measures) until Obama came out and said that not only was he unlikely to, or did not want to bomb civilians – but that he wouldn’t.
For 12 hours and 54 minutes, we got to experience the inner workings of Rand’s mind: his paranoia about how America has fallen “down a rabbit hole” to a land where the President just has to say he probably won’t kill someone who is not currently in the act of attacking the United States; his fear that we’ve entered into a war [on terrorism] that has no “temporal limitations … no geographic limits”; his belief that he was just asking Obama to do what he surely believed to be right in his heart.
In this columnist’s view, this filibuster was a glorious demonstration of the principles of republican (with a small ‘r’) governance. Filibustering makes the government work less efficiently. But the people who crafted our country did so with checks and inefficiencies in mind – an inefficient government is one that can’t do as much as quickly, and since we should err against government action, not doing things is good. And my hope is, one day in the future, we will not only get American citizens on American soil to stop getting bombed by their government, but perhaps have some brave Senator will filibuster against the whole, disastrous U.S. drone program.
Finally, everyone should be glad to see support come from such progressives as John Stewart, Demand Progress, and Ron Wyden. The anti-war left needs to prove that civil liberties don’t die when it’s ‘their president’ who’s infringing on them, and those who expressed support tonight helped prove that. Generally, though the partially bi-partisan nature of the filibuster was a welcome breath of fresh air in the stale, heated air of the Capitol, the silence from Senate Democrats on this and many other rights issues is deafening.
Rand Paul gave a heroic effort in defense of freedom tonight. I’m glad the oft-attacked, ever-misused filibuster was wielded in defense of something noble this time. Something we could all #stand for. Hopefully, the concerns brought up by this patriot’s speech will be addressed, and the White House’s clarifying, anti-drone response will be forthcoming. And we won’t have to worry about these killing innocents in America any time soon.
Early today, the White House’s clarifying, anti-drone response thankfully arrived.
It said that if you aren’t currently in engaged in combat, “no,” you cannot be killed by a drone on US soil. Though there are still a few things up in the air – what ‘in combat’ means, what happens to US citizens after they leave the US and what nature of threat (imminent vs. immediate, yes there’s a difference) justifies a lethal attack – the response satisfied Paul. He noted, however that he would’ve rather this had come out in Holder’s Congressional hearing rather than after 13 hours of speech-making. Either way, chalk this one up as a filibuster actually getting something done.