Five hours into Sen. Rand Paul’s old-fashioned, hold-the-floor filibuster Wednesday, top Senate Democrat Harry Reid came to the floor to try to end the affair, asking whether Mr. Paul would settle for going only 30 more minutes before the chamber voted on confirmation of a CIA director.
Nothing doing, said Mr. Paul — not until he got assurances from the Obama administration that it will not use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
“I would be happy with the vote now — I’ve talked a lot today — but the only thing I would like is clarification, if the president or the attorney general would clarify they’re not going to kill noncombatants in America,” Mr. Paul said.
Mr. Paul took the floor at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday and didn’t yield until almost 1 a.m. the next morning, wrapping up almost 13 hours of Senate drama that became an instant sensation on the Internet, especially on Twitter, where “#StandWithRand” was among the top U.S. hashtags all afternoon and evening.
Mr. Paul, a Kentucky Republican in his third year in the Senate and contemplating a presidential bid in 2016, raised his national profile, pushed the issue of drone executions into the public spotlight — and drew comparisons to the Texas heroes who fought in the Battle of the Alamo, which had its anniversary Wednesday.
“It is a brilliant policy and political statement,” one Republican strategist said. “He instantly becomes the man to beat in 2016.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, was first, coming to the floor along with Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
Together, they asked Mr. Paul questions, allowing him to keep the floor while giving his voice a rest. Later in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a potential 2016 candidate, also came to the floor to take part, as did Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who makes common cause with Mr. Paul on the drone issue.
Democratic leaders, though, wouldn’t give an inch to Mr. Paul.
More than seven hours in, he offered to shut down his filibuster if he could get the Senate to hold a vote on a nonbinding resolution stating the Senate opposed targeted killings of noncombatant Americans on U.S. soil.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2-ranking Democrat, blocked that deal, saying such a vote was “premature.”
He instead offered to hold hearings.
“I think this is something we should look at,” he said.
But Mr. Paul said he wanted more than vague promises down the road.
Late in the evening, he told colleagues he was in contact with the White House but that no promises or statements had been forthcoming.
While Democrats wouldn’t give Mr. Paul the assurances he was seeking, they were accommodating of his filibuster, including allowing him to yield for very long questions that sounded more like speeches — something that stretches Senate rules past their breaking point.
As he crossed the 11-hour mark, Mr. Paul’s fight was gaining more support among his colleagues, with five of them on the floor to help share the rhetorical load — including Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who had not yet spoken.
Mr. Paul now joins an elite group of senators who have had the moxie, fortitude to launch an old-style solo filibuster.
The filibuster is an old parliamentary tactic that essentially means holding the floor and blocking action. It was elevated to iconic status by the Jimmy Stewart movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but it is rare that anyone attempts a filibuster.
The last time a senator held the floor and talked at length was Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who spoke for more than eight hours in 2010, objecting to an end-of-year tax-cut deal. But Mr. Sanders wasn’t blocking any action.
Mr. Reid, the current Senate majority leader, was the last one to launch a real one-man filibuster blocking action when he spoke for more than nine hours in 2003, halting some of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. Mr. Reid spent his time reading from a book he wrote about his hometown, Searchlight, Nev.
Mr. Paul didn’t resort to those tactics. Instead, he had come to the floor armed for the long haul.
He had several binders of information, and his staff kept reloading his supply throughout the day.
In one 10-minute period, Mr. Paul covered everything from constitutional privacy to corruption in African governments to libertarianism versus conservatism to the history of the auto bailouts.
Mr. Paul also revealed that he had at one point owned stock in Fruit of the Loom, an underwear company.
He also drank sparingly from the glass of ice water that is always within reach on Senate desks when members are speaking.
Some senators who have filibustered have had their efforts constrained by their need to use the restroom.