Whatever his ideological leanings, surely Shakespeare would have raised an eyebrow at the political scene Wednesday, if only for the content it would have stirred in his creative mind. Though Rand Paul spearheaded an epic 13-hour filibuster, he didn’t fill that time alone. Fourteen other Senators total -- including one Democrat -- offered him a respite along with comradely, thought-provoking questions, and humor, to boot.
In an effort to delay the inevitable nomination of CIA Director John Brennan, Paul decided to utilize the old-school filibuster and draw his attention to an issue of utmost importance to him. According to filibuster rules, if you yield the floor your filibuster is complete. Three hours in, Paul yielded, but only to take questions, from mostly Republican colleagues and appeared thankful for and rejuvenated by their input.
The Republican senators who participated in the filibuster with Paul included Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
Some comments, or technically questions, were in part to pass the time, but many managed to raise spirits by quoting movies, musicians, famous authors, or regular supporters. Sens. Cruz, Scott, and Flake are all freshmen. Traditionally, their first speech on the Senate floor would have been on something of personal importance, but instead they helped Rand further his filibuster. Since cell phones are banned on the floor, Cruz offered to read series of Tweets so Paul could see what was going on in the outside world -- the “Twitterverse” -- encouraging Paul (and supporters).
Others left humor or inspiration out of the equation and immediately addressed the issue at hand. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was the only Democrat to join the actual filibuster. (Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) spoke but not as an official part of the filibuster.) Wyden said while he would ultimately vote for Brennan, he also believed, in what appeared to be a sudden, rare moment of transparency, that Mr. Paul “has made a number of important points” about the drone program. “[T]he executive branch should not be allowed to conduct such a serious and far-reaching program by themselves without any scrutiny, because that’s not how American democracy works.”
During his time to ask Paul a question from the floor, Senator Marco Rubio blended music, film, and politics into his speech. He referenced a “modern-day poet” rapper Wiz Khalifa and his song “Work Hard Play Hard.” Said Rubio with a grin: "You look at the time, I think it's a time when many of our colleagues expected to be home, back in the home state playing hard, but I'm happy we're here still working hard on this issue." He quoted another rapper, Jay-Z, and a few lines from The Godfather to make his point and then became more serious. “What’s really stunning to me…is how simple and straightforward this issue is and how easily it could have been resolved.…If we are laying the groundwork here today making mistakes by not asking certain questions history will hold us accountable for that…all of us…we have a right to ask these questions and get these questions answered…”
For those counting, there are 45 Republicans in the Senate and only 13 showed up to support a fellow Senator standing firm on an issue that inherently affects the civil liberties of every person in America. While the band of brothers on the floor were in relatively good spirits, yesterday, a couple curmudgeons -- Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) -- showed short-sightedness by attacking Rand for his filibuster. Holding up a chart, Graham said he was more worried about al Qaeda than about drones because there was no proof the latter had Americans on U.S. soil. If Rand and his band are the Churchills of today, where does that leave McCain and Graham?
To be honest, even after 13 hours, I wasn’t entirely convinced Paul cared about drones. I’m not sure his band of fellow politicians -- those rapper-citing, Shakespeare-reading, and Patton-quoting colleagues -- did either. They were unified on this, though: It doesn’t matter if the issue is about the White House authorizing drones to kill unarmed, noncombatant, Americans without due process or the White House authorizing every American to eat a doughnut once an hour, every day until their death. Civil liberties and basic constitutional rights matter and must be protected.
Sure, Brennan was confirmed as CIA Director, so technically the filibuster was a bust. But think about it: How much do you know about him? Now, thanks to Rand Paul and his comrades, whenever you hear about a drone strike in the news, you’ll remember Paul’s filibuster, think twice about the program, and wonder about your civil liberties. As King Henry V said in Shakespeare’s famous play before telling his men they were his band of brothers: “If we are mark'd to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour…That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made…this story shall the good man teach his son.”