Yesterday, Tea Party Senator Rand Paul (R. KY) took to the Senate floor to conduct a talking filibuster to block John Brennan, President Obama's nominee for the head of the C.I.A. on the Senate floor:


It started with a tweet. Nearly three hours into Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster—a protest of John Brennan’s nomination to run the CIA, at least until the Obama administration answered more questions about drone warfare—Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s press office tweeted that he was coming to the floor. When Lee arrived, he asked a question, and Paul gave him the floor. Photographers and reporters watching C-SPAN cameras lost the picture of Paul and sprinted down marble stairs to the doors of the Senate to catch him leaving.

He wasn’t leaving. When a senator exercises his right to filibuster, he has to stand at his desk. He can’t sit. He can’t relieve his bladder. That’s what makes a real, talking filibuster so difficult and so rare that a reporter who joined the Capitol Hill beat in January 2011 had never seen one. The last extended speech, by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, briefly held up the 2010 lame duck tax-cut compromise. That speech became an insta-book, thanks to The Nation.

As media bait that speech had nothing on the #Randpage. Paul had warned for weeks that he would “use every procedural option at my disposal to delay” Brennan’s confirmation. He arrived in the Senate on Wednesday with a black binder packed with drone-skeptic articles and quoted from the Atlantic, Esquire, National Review, and the Guardian. Within hours, reporters who rarely covered drone policy were live-tweeting Paul quotes. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a #StandWithRand fundraiser for senators who “remained committed to upholding the values and the mandates of the Constitution.”

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley watched this unfold with deep sympathy and deeper irony. Not two months had passed since the Senate bucked him—and 50 of his peers—and punted on filibuster reform. Most modern filibusters consist of 41 (or more) senators voting “no” on cloture, preventing debate on a nomination or bill. Merkley and a posse of young senators wanted to alter that so that every filibuster meant standing up and “talking through the weekend,” really debating each other. - Slate, 3/6/13

Paul was then joined by his fellow Tea Party stooges, Senators Ted Cruz (R. TX), Marco Rubio (R. FL), Jerry Moran (R. KS) and Mike Lee (R. UT) in slowing down Brennan's nomination but Senator Ron Wyden (D. OR) also joined them in their use of the talking filibuster:


Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a libertarian-minded Democrat who has also expressed reservations about the Obama administration’s drone policy, shortly before 4 p.m. became the fifth senator and first Democrat to join Paul’s filibuster.

“It’s my view that the senator from Kentucky has made a number of important points today,” Wyden said.

“I want it understood that I have great respect for this effort to really ask these kinds of questions,” Wyden said. “And Sen. Paul has certainly been digging into these issues in great detail.” - Washington Post, 3/6/13

Senator Jeff Merkley (D. OR), the leading voice for filibuster reform, praised Paul's use of the talking filibuster:


“Rand Paul is saying ‘I have the courage of my conviction, I’m taking a stand and I want the people of America to know it.’ And that’s the way it absolutely should be if you’re working to block a nominee. You should be taking that responsibility,” Merkely said. “And I applaud him for doing that.” - TPM, 3/6/13
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out that Paul's use of the talking filibuster was exactly what Merkley had been arguing for as part of real filibuster reform:


That said, Wednesday’s filibuster is actually an old-school talkathon — exactly the kind of filibuster Merkley wanted to encourage. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went down to the floor of the Senate and used his prerogatives as a senator to mount a sustained, public argument against John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA. Now Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is picking up the argument. This is the highest purpose of the filibuster: Allowing a passionate minority to slow down the Senate and make their case to both their colleagues and the American people. If more filibusters went like this, there’d be no reason to demand reform. And if there is reform, it needs to hold open the possibility for filibusters like this. - Washington Post, 3/6/13
But Merkley's praise for Paul's use of the talking filibuster also renewed his call for real filibuster reform:
“Senate Republicans have demonstrated that they have absolutely no intention of ending their assault on the ability of the U.S. Senate to function,” Merkley told TPM, saying he had hoped the bipartisan rules change would ease gridlock. “Many of my colleagues are absolutely beside themselves with frustration, and that frustration is rapidly turning to fury.”

Senate Republicans have unleashed a string of filibusters since the rules reform deal, which did not change the 60-vote threshold, and was enacted in January. They include the first-ever filibuster of a secretary of defense nominee (Chuck Hagel), a letter by 43 senators vowing to filibuster any nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the filibuster of a bill to avoid sequestration, and the filibuster of judicial nominee Caitlin Halligan. It was the Halligan filibuster Wednesday morning that set off Durbin and Merkley.

“I know that my leadership is incredibly determined to make this body work,” Merkley said, adding that the Senate GOP’s “unacceptable conduct .. in such a short period” shows that they have “no interest in enabling the Senate to function.” He cited earlier remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Wednesday’s comments by Durbin on the floor, that if the January deal failed to ease gridlock, Democrats would reconsider rules reform. - TPM, 3/6/13

Merkley's call for reforming the filibuster echoes the call of Senator Dick Durbin (D. IL), the number two ranking Democrat in the Senate:


You'll recall that it was just seven weeks ago tomorrow that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a deal to give the Senate rules a little touch-up. At the time, a whole lot of reform proponents said the changes were largely meaningless, and the chamber's profound dysfunction would remain unaffected.

A whole lot of those folks have an I-told-you-so message for the Senate leaders today. It's causing some senators who backed the bipartisan deal in January to give the issue another look, including the chamber's #2 Democrat, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

As one Republican senator launched a "talking filibuster" Wednesday, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the Senate signaled it may already be time to reopen debate about the chamber's rules. [...]

"I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we're headed, we need to revisit the rules again," the Illinois Democrat said. "We need to go back to it again. I'm sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work." - Maddow Blog, 3/6/13

Merkley did explain that though Paul used the talking filibuster reform correctly to slow down Brennan's nomination, he cited previous filibusters from the Senate GOP that showcase their obstruction:
UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing focusing on employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans and the
Merkley contrasted that with the filibuster that happened right before Paul’s speech, one that got perfunctory media attention. For the third time, Democrats tried to advance the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. For the third time she got a majority of “aye” votes but couldn’t break the 60-vote cloture threshold.

“That took no time or energy from any member,” Merkley said. “It had no impact on the American people. It had no accountability. From the time that leadership struck its deal on the filibuster, they talked about the need for comity. And what we’ve seen since then is a 100 percent, all-out effort to paralyze this body. We’ve seen that in 43 Republican senators saying they would support a filibuster of anyone nominated to run the (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). We saw it in the first-ever filibuster of a defense secretary.” - Slate, 3/6/13

I will agree with Wyden, Paul and their colleagues use of the talking filibuster in the case of the John Brennan nomination was justified and used fairly but I agree with Merkley that we still need to push for real filibuster reform.  I for one am not going to give up on making this a reality and I am happy that Merkley isn't giving up on it either.  Please take a moment to sign the Daily Kos' petition to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. NV) to reopen the process of filibuster reform:


And while you're at it, how about helping out with Merkley's 2014 re-election campaign with a contribution:


Originally posted to pdc on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 07:25 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, Koscadia, Daily Kos Oregon, and PDX Metro.

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