Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster that ended early Thursday morning didn’t quite top the Senate’s record books, but it was enough for MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell to call “rambling madness” and “nothing but a fundraising stunt.”
Whether Paul’s intentions were noble or politically ambitious, such an event does have lucrative potential; the National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately launched their “Stand with Rand” fundraising effort after his filibuster began to get attention. “[I]f you want to really help secure a Senate that believes in upholding the Constitution, donate below to help us gain the six seats needed for a Republican Majority,” the NRSC wrote on its new website.
Substantively, the merits of Paul’s grievances were delivered with thin arguments. He wanted Attorney General Eric Holder to put in writing something he had already said to Sen. Ted Cruz earlier in the day–that unmanned drone strikes would not be used against Americans on U.S. soil. But the reason for Paul’s filibuster did not even match what he was actually filibustering–the nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA. Paul himself admitted this last point.
The filibuster means attention for Paul and those who joined with him on his half-day crusade. As Slate’s Dave Weigel wrote Wednesday, “Everybody loves filibusters.” Weigel means the traditional filibuster, the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” kind (Cruz told Paul on the floor that he was “making Jimmy Stewart smile.”) It happened that there was also a less interesting kind of filibuster yesterday, the Mitch McConnell 60-vote kind. Simply by saying no, McConnell prevented the nomination of judge Caitlin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit court. ”End of story. End of Halligan,” wrote the New York Times’ Gail Collins.
Not everyone was pleased with Paul. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote a scolding review of the Kentucky senator’s “drone rant” Thursday:
“Calm down, Senator. Mr. Holder is right, even if he doesn’t explain the law very well. The U.S. government cannot randomly target American citizens on U.S. soil or anywhere else…The country needs more senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he’s talking about.”
Sen. John McCain quoted this piece from Journal in his own excoriation of Paul Thursday. “To somehow say that someone who disagrees with American policy and even may demonstrate against it, is somehow a member of an organization which makes that individual an enemy combatant is simply false,” he added.
As McCain criticized Paul, fellow Sen. Lindsay Graham went after his colleagues who joined in “I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone, do you?” He said. “They had a drone program back then, all of a sudden this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up. What are we up to here?”
The filiblizard comes in the wake of Senate Democrats’ recent failure to push forward real reform that would have done away with McConnell’s 60-vote rule.
Our own Sarah Muller wrote about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s capitulation back in January, noting that a number of newer Democratic senators supported a package that forced the minority to perform the Rand Paul/Jimmy Stewart variety of filibuster. “In effect, this would make it more difficult to casually block legislation,” she wrote, “a method that’s become routine among Republicans under the Obama administration. (See Affordable Care Act.)”
Stunt or crusade, Paul’s talking filibuster died early Thursday morning of natural causes: He had to go to the bathroom. And later that same day, the Kentucky senator got what he wanted; Eric Holder sent him a letter Thursday morning reiterating his answer to the question of whether drones could be used domestically on U.S. citizens.
“The answer to your question is no,” he wrote.