At about 11:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul took the floor of the Senate to launch one of the chamber’s rarest spectacles: a genuine filibuster. Paul, a libertarian, announced at the outset of his remarks that he would filibuster Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA director over concerns that the administration’s use of drone attacks against Americans abroad and on U.S. soil was unconstitutional.
Rampant abuse of the filibuster has stifled the Senate in recent years, but the kind of marathon soliloquies immortalized in movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are now exceedingly rare. The last genuine talking filibuster was performed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who held the floor for more than 8 1/2 hours on Dec. 10, 2010, in objection to an $858 billion tax bill. To curb the use of the tactic, liberal reformers like Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, New Mexico’s Tom Udall and Iowa’s Tom Harkin spearheaded an effort to change the chamber’s rules to require members to hold forth on the Senate floor if they want to hold up a bill or a nominee. (Subscribers can read my recent story about their efforts, which is behind TIME’s magazine paywall.) However, their efforts to reform the filibuster were stymied by institutionalists leery of relinquishing the minority party’s greatest weapon. Instead, the Senate passed a toothless bipartisan “reform” package that mostly sustained the status quo. As a result, the filibuster has continued to beguile the majority; on Wednesday, the Democrats failed to break the Republicans’ filibuster of one of Barack Obama’s judicial nominees.
Proponents of the so-called “talking filibuster” provision would cheer Paul for upholding the spirit of the filibuster. Paul’s office signals the senator will speak for at least a few hours.”I’m here today to speak for as long as I can hold up,” Paul said. If you’re following on Twitter, the (lamentable) hashtag is #filiblizzard. We’ll see how long he can last. A vote on Brennan’s nomination, which could have taken place Wednesday, is now held up until Paul sits down.
You can watch Paul’s filibuster here.