Politics & Policy

Rand Paul’s 20-Minute Filibuster

(File photo: Alex Wong/Getty)

Kentucky Republican Rand Paul kicked off the third filibuster of his Senate career, a denunciation of the debt limit negotiated between GOP leadership and the White House — and then he walked off the floor.

“This filibuster will go on to about 1:00 in the morning and then we will find out who the true conservatives in this town are,” he said on the Senate floor. “It disappoints me greater than I can possibly express that the party that I belong to that should be the conservative party doesn’t appear to be conservative. This is a big problem.”

Under Senate rules, he had only limited power to delay the vote on the budget agreement. But he did have some power that way, and Paul has made effective use of the “fauxlibuster,” as his critics tend to refer to such speeches. Moreover, he told Republican-primary voters during Wednesday night’s GOP debate to watch for his filibuster. They didn’t get to see much.

Paul spoke for ten-and-a-half hours during the debate over the Patriot Act in May, but his Thursday remarks clocked in at less than 20 minutes.  In that time, he issued a stern rebuke of his colleagues. “So instead of saying, ‘You know what, the debt is a real problem and we both have to conserve in both areas,’ they both get together and raise the money for the [sacred] cows,” he said. “On the right, we are busting the limits because the Right wants more military spending; the Left wants more for welfare; the unholy alliance, a secret handshake, and what gets worse? The debt. We’re borrowing $1 million every minute, and it’s not going to end in a pretty way.”

#share#A few minutes later, Paul was gone, to the confusion of his colleagues. “We’re all kind of a little shocked,” a Senate GOP aide tells National Review. Eleanor May, the national press secretary for Paul’s presidential campaign, says that “he will return to the floor around one a.m., once session resumes.” His team told ABC that he didn’t continue speaking because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) had already filed cloture, the procedural move to end debate on the debt limit; it’s an odd answer, because that took place on Tuesday, before Paul touted his coming filibuster at the presidential debate.

With cloture filed, the earliest that the Senate could vote on the debt-limit agreement is 1:00 a.m. Friday. If Paul had refused to allow the Senate to adjourn for the day, he could have theoretically delayed that vote to 1:00 p.m. Friday. “It’s meaningful, its a real delay, but he can’t prevent it from happening [entirely],” as the GOP Senate aide put it.

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

Update: Paul’s Senate and campaign reached out to NR, arguing that he forced McConnell to file cloture by objecting to an expedited process for voting on the deal and thus executed, in effect, a 30-hour filibuster by requiring the lengthy debate of the bill to take place. They also note that he returned to the floor later in the evening to speak against the deal, and then spoke for a third time in after the opponents of the deal failed to muster the 40 votes needed to sustain a filibuster.

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