WASHINGTON — Early today, nearly 13 hours after declaring, "I will speak until I can no longer speak," Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky ended his his self-described filibuster blocking the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the CIA.
Paul, a tea party favorite and a Republican critic of Obama's drone policy, began speaking just before noon by demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring that the unmanned weapons would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens. He wasn't picky about the format, saying at one point he'd be happy with a telegram or a Tweet.
Paul said he recognized he can't stop Brennan from being confirmed, but he said the nomination was the right vehicle for a debate over what the Obama White House believes are the limits of the federal government's ability to conduct lethal operations against suspected terrorists, including American citizens.
Paul, 50, received intermittent support early on from several other conservative senators holding similar views, plus Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Paul spoke almost continuously for five hours before Majority Leader Harry Reid tried but failed to move to a vote on Brennan.
Paul snacked on candy at the dinner hour while continuing to speak. At one point, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who walks haltingly with a cane because of a stroke, delivered a canister of hot tea and an apple to Paul's desk, but a doorkeeper removed them. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a conservative from Texas, stood off to the side of the Senate floor in a show of support. Other well-wishers with privileges to be on the floor shook his hand when he temporarily turned the speaking over to his colleagues.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read Twitter messages from people eager to "Stand With Rand." The Twitterverse, said Cruz, is "blowing up." And as the night went on, Cruz spoke for longer periods as Paul leaned against a desk across the floor. Cruz, an insurgent Republican with strong tea party backing, read passages from Shakespeare's Henry V and lines from the 1970 movie Patton, starring George C. Scott.
Cruz also read from a letter written by William Barrett Travis, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas army who died at the Alamo 177 years ago.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, joined Paul briefly in the afternoon. Addressing Paul, who had been conducting the filibuster for nearly five hours, Rubio quipped that it was important to stay hydrated.
"Let me give you some free advice: Keep some water nearby," Rubio said in a joking reference to his rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union speech.
Rubio later returned to speak after 11 p.m.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also appeared late in the evening, congratulating Paul for his "tenacity and conviction.''
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Paul read from notebooks filled with articles about the expanded use of the unmanned weapons that have become the centerpiece of the Obama administration's campaign against al-Qaida suspects. As he moved about the Senate floor, aides brought him glasses of water, which he barely touched. Senate rules say a senator has to remain on the floor to continue to hold it, even though he can yield to another senator for a question.
"No president has the right to say he is judge, jury and executioner," Paul said.
Not all Republicans were so enthusiastic about Paul's performance. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the prospect of drones being used to kill people in the United States was "ridiculous" and called the debate "paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified."
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Graham. He said it is unconstitutional for the U.S. military or intelligence agencies to conduct lethal counterterrorism operations in the United States against U.S. citizens. Suggesting they can or might, Rogers said, "provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country."
Reid, D-Nev., said he planned to file a motion to bring debate over Brennan's nomination to an end, if not today, then Friday or next week. Reid had pushed for a confirmation vote Wednesday. Technically, the Senate had not even started the debate on Brennan's nomination before Paul took control of the floor almost immediately after Republicans successfully blocked a vote on a federal appeals court nominee.
Information from thehill.com and the New York Times was used in this report.