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Rand Paul’s filibuster in historical terms

March 6, 2013 by NCC Staff


Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took over the Senate floor on Wednesday in an old-fashioned talking filibuster. So how unique is the move?


paulThe Senate currently uses a “silent” filibuster system where a member threatens to filibuster. A cloture vote is then required, with a 60-vote majority, to override the filibuster and limit debate time.


Link: Fun filibuster factoids


The last major talking filibuster in the Senate was in December 2010, when Senator Bernard Sanders spoke for more than eight hours to protest a tax law. That was the longest filibuster since 1992.


On Wednesday, Paul, with help from about a dozen other senators, including Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, and Ted Cruz, was attempting to block John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director. Paul was also upset by comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder that there could be extraordinary circumstances where drones could be used in an attack on American soil.


Politico said that Paul had seized on a technicality that could allow him to keep the floor as long as he can speak. It said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t file paperwork that would allow him to break into Paul’s filibuster for a vote to end it.


The inclusion of Lee, Moran, and Cruz, three other senators with Tea Party connections, as “guest answerers” of questions could give the filibuster some staying power. Also, a much-hyped snowstorm for the Washington area fizzled out on Wednesday, after most of the federal government closed its doors.


One Democrat, Ron Wyden, also joined the filibuster, to protest domestic use of attack drones. Then fellow Republicans like Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey got into the act. By the end on early Thursday morning, about a dozen senators had taken part in the event.


The Washington Post reported that at 1 p.m., when Paul entered the second hour of his filibuster, only 30 people were in the Senate gallery.


But the filibuster had picked up a sizable audience on Twitter, as people were able to watch Paul on C-SPAN2’s live feed on TV and online.


The House of Representatives doesn’t use filibusters anymore. When the House got bigger, it moved away from filibusters in 1842.


In its original form, which Paul is using, a senator can “grab” the Senate floor and stall a bill by speaking for as long as he or she could stay conscious.


The scene with Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a famous example of a talking filibuster, where Smith’s character collapses after a 24-hour filibuster in the 1939 film.


A famous real-life filibuster involved Senator Strom Thurmond, who held the Senate floor for 24 hours in an attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957.


According to the Senate website, a group of senators also staged a tag-team 57-day filibuster to protest the Civil Rights Act of 1964, until a successful cloture vote shut down the filibuster.


Filibusters and similar tactics aren’t new in the world of politics. One of the first recorded masters of the filibusters was the ancient Roman politician Cato the Younger.


In Rome’s senate, Cato would speak until sunset, which was the official ending of a Senate session. One of his last filibusters was to oppose Julius Caesar’s return to Rome in 60 B.C.


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