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“I will speak until I can no longer speak.”
Those can be famous words when spoken on the Senate floor, worthy of — at minimum — a footnote in the annals of Senate history.
Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday was the latest to utter such words in the chamber shortly before noon, announcing that he would begin a live, “talking filibuster” of President Barack Obama’s choice of John O. Brennan to be the next director of the CIA.
The Kentucky Republican’s unusual move to launch hours upon hours of extended speechmaking was predicated on his demand that the Obama administration affirm that it cannot carry out targeted killings of Americans on U.S. soil with drone strikes.
“I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle,” Paul began. “The principle is one that as Americans we have fought long and hard for and to give up on that principle, to give up on the Bill of Rights, to give up on the Fifth Amendment protection that says that no person shall be held without due process, that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted.”
As the hours went by, other senators joined him, asking Paul to yield for the ostensible purpose of asking a question. In reality, that gave Paul a brief respite from an otherwise lonely crusade. The first member to intervene was Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a tea-party-backed Republican like Paul, at the three hour and 10 minute mark. Others followed, including GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
“Just let me give you some free advice: keep some water nearby,” Rubio quipped in a jab at himself over his own conspicuous consumption of spring water during this year’s Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address. Rubio, who voted to advance Brennan’s nomination from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, said he thought Paul was asking a straightforward question of the administration and deserved a clear answer.
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to get consent to bring the debate to a close and allow votes on Brennan’s nomination before the end of the evening, Paul rebuffed him. Paul said he was prepared to vote immediately if he received answers about killings from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., but Reid, of course, said he could not speak for the Justice Department nor the White House.