Real-life "Mr. Smith goes to Washington": history repeats in old school 13-hr filibuster, American tradition shakes the world
Newt Gingrich: Rand Paul is a Pioneer of The Future 3/7/13
A typical American tradition is shaking the world on March 6, 2013. Old school Filibuster, unheard of anywhere else in the world, well-portrayed in the famous movie “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” (starring the handsome James Stewart, added by Library of Congress to the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant").
Few do not know Jimmy Stewart as “Mr. Smith”, but no one would imagine such an old-fashioned filibuster was happening on Wednesday, March 6 – Senator Rand Paul held the floor for 12 hours 52 minutes, talking into midnight (official start time was 11:47am), simply to demand a direct answer to a direct question... Senator Paul: "at about 6:30 p.m., something extraordinary happened. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been recovering from a stroke, came to the floor to give me something. I was not allowed to drink anything but water or eat anything but the candy left in our Senate desks. But he brought me an apple and a thermos full of tea — the same sustenance Jimmy Stewart brought to the Senate floor in the movie 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' That was a moment I will never forget."
Senator Rand Paul's filibuster brought him almost 3,500 twitter followers per hour - 60 followers per minute, 1 per second. He said, "the outpouring of support for my filibuster has been overwhelming and heartening. My office has fielded thousands of calls. Millions have followed this debate on TV, Twitter and Facebook." Indeed, an American tradition is shaking the world, "culturally and historically significant".
"I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA. 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. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country. I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle."
Paul began his marathon session at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday and continued until 12:39 a.m. Thursday morning. At various times he was joined by fellow Republican Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Mike Lee (R-UT). Yet a key moment occurred in the fifth hour after the filibuster began, when Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced on Twitter that he was headed to the Senate floor to join his Republican colleague. When he got there, Wyden admitted that he intended to “vote for Mr. Brennan on the floor,” but he also concluded that “the 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. That’s not what our system is about.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) had approximately 96,000 Twitter followers when he began his filibuster just before noon Wednesday. When he finally finished speaking almost 13 hours later, his follower count was sitting pretty at slightly more than 141,000 — a total gain of approximately 40,000 followers, or a bit less than 3,500 an hour.
I had a large binder of materials to help me get through my points, but although I sometimes read an op-ed or prepared remarks in between my thoughts, most of my filibuster was off the top of my head and straight from my heart. From 1 to 2 p.m., I barely looked at my notes. I wanted to make sure that I touched every point and fully explained why I was demanding more information from the White House.
Just before 3 p.m., Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) came to the Senate floor to help out. Under Senate rules, I could not yield the floor or my filibuster would end, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could have shut me down. The only way for me to continue and allow Sens. Lee and Cruz to speak was to yield the floor for questions.
Their presence gave me strength and inspiration. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) also arrived to help. Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the only Democrat who came to my defense, explained how we have worked together to demand more information from the White House about the rules for drone strikes. At about 4:30 p.m., Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined. I was flagging for a while, but these senators kept me going.
Sen. Reid came to the Senate floor to ask me when I would be done so he could schedule a vote. But I wasn’t ready to yield. I felt I had a lot more explaining to do.
At about 6:30 p.m., something extraordinary happened. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been recovering from a stroke, came to the floor to give me something. I was not allowed to drink anything but water or eat anything but the candy left in our Senate desks. But he brought me an apple and a thermos full of tea — the same sustenance Jimmy Stewart brought to the Senate floor in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” That was a moment I will never forget.
Sen. Cruz came to the floor again just before 7:30 p.m. and said, “Given that the Senate rules do not allow for the use of cellular phones on the floor of the Senate, I feel quite confident that the senator from Kentucky is not aware of the Twitter-verse that has been exploding.”
I had little idea of what was going on. I was allowed only to talk and listen to questions. As I started to walk around the Senate chamber to loosen up my legs, I was energized by the responses on Twitter. Sen. Cruz really lifted my spirits when he read the tweets.
Then something unexpected happened. House conservatives started appearing in the back of the chamber to show their support. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who stayed for five hours, offered me his boots when I complained that I had not worn my most comfortable shoes. My good friend Rep. Thomas Massie from Kentucky came over. And then came the conservative cavalry of Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Garland “Andy” Barr (Ky.), Trey Radel (Fla.), Michael Burgess (Tex.), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Raul R. Labrador (Idaho), Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Richard Hudson (N.C.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.).
Over the evening I had the support of Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), John Cornyn (Tex.), John Thune (S.D.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). And Sens. Cruz, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) used the opportunity to make their first speaking appearances on the Senate floor. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) came at the end to speak, but after midnight, I had said enough.
By the end of the night, I was tired and my voice was cracking. I ended by saying, “The cause here is one that I think is important enough to have gone through this procedure.” I talked about the idea of compromise, but said that “you don’t get half of the Fifth Amendment.” I argued that we need more extended debates. And finally, at 12:40 a.m., I yielded the floor.
The outpouring of support for my filibuster has been overwhelming and heartening. My office has fielded thousands of calls. Millions have followed this debate on TV, Twitter and Facebook.”
“Given that the Senate rules to not allow for the use of cellular phones on the Senate floor, I feel quite confident that the senator from Kentucky is not aware of the Twitterverse that has been exploding,” Cruz declared. “So what I wanted to do for the Senator from Kentucky is give some small sampling of the reaction on twitter so that he might understand how the American people are responding to his courageous leadership.”
Cruz began reading tweets out loud for over five minutes on the Senate floor, citing the popular hashtags #StandWithRand and #filiblizzard. As electronics are banned on the Senate floor, Cruz read them from several sheets of paper.
Just hours after the Kentucky senator ended his filibuster, he received a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Though short and terse, the AG finally gave Paul a direct answer to a direct question: Do you feel the administration has the authority to use armed drones against American citizens on U.S. soil?
"Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no," the letter said, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, who read it aloud to reporters during a press conference March 7.
Twitter: ‘Over a million tweets sent’ about Rand Paul filibuster Even though the White House stayed silent on the issue for the remainder of the evening, #StandWithRand was the top trending conversation on Twitter worldwide at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Story. In 1989, the Library of Congress added the movie to the United States National Film Registry, for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"
Physical limits can cut short a filibuster, including Rand Paul’s against drones
What was happening to Rand Paul, 12 hours into this windmill-tilting crusade against drones (but not against droning), as the sun set and the moon rose and he talked and he talked and he — oh, how he talked. What was happening to his vocal cords? To the soles of his feet? What was happening — don’t pretend you don’t want to know — to his bladder?
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best thing to do.” Bill Frohna considers Paul’s bladder. Frohna is the chairman of the emergency medicine department at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “Your body gives you signals, and you really shouldn’t ignore those. Stay hydrated. Obey the natural process of elimination.” However (however!): “You’re not actually going to be doing any permanent damage. A little urge to go, that’s okay.”
Phew. But there’s still so much attendant discomfort in watching a filibuster, in witnessing a political figure be forcibly separated from his news bites and prepackaged slogans and just having to wing it. Wing it for hours, forever, like the relative who insists on giving an impromptu toast at the wedding — Dear god, now he’s talking about grocery-hoarding survivalists? It could all go so terribly wrong.
Watch Paul’s entire production, fully streamable at c-span.org. Better yet, fast-forward Wednesday’s filibuster in the Senate to random intervals with the volume down low for the full Kabuki effect of this American political theater. Watch hour zero, minute zero when, red-tied and wide-eyed, the Kentucky Republican strolls to the lectern. Witness the progression:
3:06 p.m.: The whites of his eyes have begun to match his tie.
9:43: The reds of his eyes have begun match the sheen of the Senate mahogany.
11:43: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is talking now, saving Paul, saving all of us from having to watch.
“One thing senators like to do is talk,” says Don Ritchie, the Senate historian. He worries not for the senator. In the 19th century, all senators were orators. Their constituents got to hear their positions only when they came home to speechify, and those speeches would always last for at least two, three hours. “They were used to standing up on the back of a wagon.”
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) reportedly took daily steam baths in preparation for his 24-hour 1957 screed against the Civil Rights Act, to dehydrate himself and prepare for his separation from the urinal. In 1935, Sen. Huey Long (D-La.) managed to go for 10 hours when he rose to address matters in the National Recovery Act, but he was felled by nature: According to a 2005 Village Voice account of the day, “The Kingfish announced he would yield the floor to seek a conference with the leadership, and he ran for the toilet.”
“My urinary tract was in good shape that day,” says Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), the last torchbearer of the filibuster — he spoke for eight hours in 2010 about tax cuts. “We got a call from the nurse,” though, he says. She wanted him to make sure he walked around enough, to avoid blood clots. The experience wasn’t scary, he says, because he was speaking on something “I feel very strongly about.”
It’s perceived as the height of egotism, the filibuster — the smugness of holding the legislative system hostage while you go on andonandon. The blustering confidence that one’s words are wise enough (wide enough?) to fill more airtime than Wagner’s entire “Ring” cycle.
But the filibuster also reminds us, almost more than any other political act, of the vulnerable humanity of politicians. On the lonely expanse of the Senate floor, they are not swept away by handlers for a quick retouch of a shiny nose. They are not corralled by aides or herded by press secretaries: “I think what the Senator meant to say. . .”
Over the course of several hours, they slowly turn human. Stuttering, sputtering, getting sweaty and, one imagines, smelly. Repeating themselves, backtracking, getting tired.
“I would go for another 12 hours,” Paul said at 12:38 a.m., after he had been speaking for 12 hours 50 minutes. “But I’ve discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I’m going to have to go take care of that in a few minutes.”
Sen. Rand Paul did Wednesday night, and it was magnificent. The legality of killing American citizens on U.S. soil? ...uncovered a facet that warranted a dramatic Senate filibuster: our Fifth Amendment right to due process, a principle dating back to 1215 when the Magna Carta was penned in England.
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