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Rand Paul Filibuster Spectacle Rivets Senate

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Paul is seen on the television in the Senate Press Gallery as he filibusters the president’s nominee to lead the CIA.

No good filibuster talk-a-thon is without a reference to Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which Jimmy Stewart portrays a young, idealistic senator who launches a filibuster that goes until he literally collapses on the floor of the chamber.

“I would note that your standing here today like a modern ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ [would] surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile,” Cruz said.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon lent bipartisanship to the filibuster effort. Wyden has expressed concerns about numerous Obama administration policies on civil liberties grounds. Wyden said he would support Brennan’s confirmation but backs Paul’s underlying inquiry.

Senators came and went throughout the day, with Democrats taking their usual turns in the presiding officer’s chair. At one point, as presiding officer Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., leafed through the Senate Manual, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy passed through the chamber, stopping to procure a piece of candy from a corner desk. The Vermont Democrat briefly chatted with Baldwin as the filibuster continued.

But Leahy was hardly alone in needing a quick chocolate pick-me-up. During the six o’clock hour, reporters rushed into the press gallery to observe Paul enjoying a candy bar that could be identified from outsiders watching on C-SPAN as a Snickers, perhaps the best ever example for their “Why Wait?” campaign.

Onlookers — reporters, staffers and visitors — came and went throughout the afternoon and into the evening, not knowing when the day began that they would see a Senate spectacle that hasn’t been attempted since Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., held the floor for more than eight hours as he sought to delay an extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts in 2010. Former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato was famous for his 1992 talking filibuster — an attempt to save a Smith-Corona typewriter factory in upstate New York.

Perhaps more unusual, however, Paul’s talkfest was actually the second filibuster attempt of the day. Led by Republicans, the Senate failed to advance the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to be a D.C. Circuit Court judge. The specter of two filibusters in one day, as well as a previous attempted blockade against the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary, caused some Democrats to bemoan their lost opportunity to radically change filibuster rules at the beginning of this Congress.

But as the debate went on Wednesday evening, it was unclear what would cause Paul to relent: the loss of his own voice or the desire to speak to a different kind of TV camera. He was scheduled to appear on evening cable news programs. Those shows could, of course, pre-empt his interview segments to pick up the feed from the Senate floor.

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