Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul has been staging an old-fashioned filibuster, staging a marathon speech and holding the Senate floor in opposition to the renewal of the Patriot Act, which authorizes certain government surveillance of citizens.
The Senate has pretty much replaced the old “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” actual filibuster with the mere threat of a filibuster, so that bills typically require a 60 vote super-majority that would be enough to shut off debate should a filibuster actually occur. Sen. Paul, though, has too few allies on this subject, so he is going the “Mr. Smith” route. He has only a few allies helping him hold the floor, and there is enough support for the Patriot Act to shut off debate, which will probably happen at 1:00 p.m. today.
So do you “stand with Rand”?
Sen. Rand Paul has spent most of the afternoon talking — and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
Paul took to the Senate floor at 1:18 p.m. Wednesday, interrupting a debate on a trade bill, to speak against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act. The Kentucky Republican has repeatedly threatened to filibuster a reauthorization of the controversial measure — a fight he conceded Monday he can’t win because he doesn’t have the votes.
The government is making “an end run against the Constitution and the First Amendment,” he said.
Paul spoke for about two and a half hours straight before he got help from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), with whom Paul has crafted his planned opposition to the bill. The two went back and forth asking one another questions – very, very long questions – about surveillance and the collection of bulk records. Later, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also took to the floor.Paul has been here before, rocketing to prominence in 2013 after speaking for 13 hours on the Senate floor — and vowing in his new book to wear tennis shoes the next time he filibustered. Last time, he had help from a large group of Senate colleagues. This time he had a much smaller group by his side.
This speech could be an inflection point for Paul’s presidential campaign as, after a series of early stumbles, he seizes the moment to differentiate himself from his competitors and gauge if a hawkish party takes to his message that there should be greater limits on government surveillance. As he began speaking, Paul’s team blasted out e-mails and issued a flurry of tweets urging supporters to “#StandWithRand.”
“He certainly wants to stake his claim to the nomination at least in part on this,” said Liza Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program at New York University School of Law. “This is a central, defining issue for him.”
Paul had control of the chamber until he gives it up, or until 1 p.m. tomorrow, when a cloture vote on trade legislation will take place, according to his office.
He spoke about the bulk collection of data. He spoke about civil forfeiture. He spoke about section 213 of the Patriot Act, “this whole sneak and peak” that allows the government to come into your house. He spoke about criminal justice. And spying. And a 1928 court case. And the Ninth Amendment. Every half hour or so a new stenographer came over to stand by Paul’s desk, relieving the previous one.
Most of all, Paul spoke about how the Patriot Act allows for the collection of bulk surveillance. “We should be in open rebellion, saying enough’s enough,” he said.