Mar 7, 2013
The Senate has finally confirmed John Brennan as CIA director. After Rand Paul launched a nearly 13-hour, old-school talking filibuster on the Senate floor yesterday in an attempt to block the nomination, today the Senate voted 63-34 to give him to the post.
Paul’s defiant stand wasn’t as cinematic or dramatic as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The spectacle was quickly dubbed “filiblizzard” by the snarky Twitterverse. And it’s easy to make fun of Paul’s reading material and dehydration. (Even Marco Rubio joked, “Keep some water nearby. Trust me.”)
But it was an important civics lesson. This is how filibusters should work.
Senate Reformer Jeff Merkley, author of a proposal to force filibustering senators to talk like Paul, explained it best, telling TPM, “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.”
Republicans didn’t take any responsibility when they blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan right before Paul launched into his talk-a-thon. Halligan is President Barack Obama’s nominee for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and because of silent GOP filibustering, her nomination failed to get an up-or-down vote for a second time. Republicans demanded 60 votes to end debate, and when only 51 senators supported breaking the filibuster, Halligan’s nomination floundered again without a peep.
Not one senator stood for 13 hours in the name of obstruction. Twitter didn’t create a hastag. And Halligan was barely mentioned by TV’s talking heads, who all devoted a segment to Paul’s unusual stand last night.
Though we don’t often agree with senator from Kentucky, we applaud his decision to voice his concerns about the White House. He launched a substantial discussion and got Washington to start talking in something other than soundbites. Public attention was finally focused on the root of the upper chamber’s immense dysfunction. Paul even got a new letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to answer his question on Obama’s drone policies.
Before Brennan's confirmation, Majority Leader Harry Reid went after the GOP’s two-faced stance.
“My Republican colleagues love to extol the virtues of ‘regular order.’ If only we could get back to the days of regular order, they say, the Senate would function again,” Reid said. “Yesterday we saw both sides of that. On one hand my Republican colleagues did not practice regular order. Instead they demanded a 60-vote threshold for confirmation of a qualified nominee, Caitlin Halligan, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans hid behind a cloture vote — a filibuster by another term — to prevent a simple up or down vote on this important nomination. They took the easy way out.”
“On the other hand, one Republican senator did return to regular order. And, as is his right, he spoke for as long as he was able,” he said. “That is a filibuster.”
The Senate is broken. It’s time to fix it.