WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kentucky Republican Rand Paul took to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday and kept talking for hours in an attempt to block the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, as director of the CIA.
Paul began shortly before noon, and talked into the evening in a rare old-fashioned filibuster - in which a senator speaks until he can continue no longer - to prevent a vote on Brennan over the U.S. use of unmanned aircraft to kill opponents.
Paul may not succeed in preventing a vote on Brennan, but he delayed it until at least Thursday. Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic leader, went to the floor asking that debate be limited to another 90 minutes, followed by consideration of the confirmation, but Paul objected.
At that point, Reid announced, “Everyone should plan on coming tomorrow. We’re through for the night.”
Reid’s hope for a confirmation vote on Thursday would require an agreement with Republicans, because of Senate rules that require 60 votes to stop debate and a waiting period before a final vote.
Brennan’s confirmation, which requires only a simple majority of 51 votes in the full 100-member Senate, is expected when the vote finally takes place. The Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate and Brennan is also supported by many Republicans.
Paul, best known for his libertarian tendencies, was protesting against a policy of using unmanned drone aircraft in foreign conflicts, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” Paul said.
A handful of other Republicans, including Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio of Florida, took the floor to give Paul a break. So did Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has expressed strong doubts about the drone program, but voted for Brennan in the Senate Intelligence committee.
Most of the senators who spoke - the Republicans and the Democrat - represent the right- and left-wings of their respective parties.
Paul said he planned to continue speaking until he gets a “clarification” from Obama or Holder that they will not kill noncombatants inside the United States.
Paul was the first senator to embark on a traditional talking filibuster - of the sort immortalized in the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” - since the Senate voted early this year to make it more difficult to stop votes by using procedural tactics.
The last talking filibuster was by Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, who spoke for more than eight hours against a tax bill in 2010. That speech was turned into a book.
The longest filibuster on record was by the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
It was not known how long Paul would continue talking. He was scheduled for a television appearance on CNN at 7 p.m. EST/midnight GMT.
On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted by an overwhelming 12-3 majority to approve Brennan’s nomination and send it to the full Senate for a final vote.
Some Republican critics of President Barack Obama’s administration had threatened to try to delay the nomination until the White House discloses more information about its response to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 last year.
The Intelligence Committee put off a vote on Brennan last week because of squabbling among both Democratic and Republican committee members and the White House over congressional access to sensitive documents related to the Benghazi incident and the use of drones to attack suspected militants.
Editing by Christopher Wilson