The freshman senator lost on the question at hand, as pretty much everyone expected he would. The Senate approved the nomination of John O. Brennan to lead the CIA on Thursday on a vote of 63 to 34.
But Paul’s speech won praise from the civil libertarians on the left and the right. Twitter tracked 1.1 million tweets relating to the filibuster, 450,000 with the hashtag #standwithrand.
Many conservatives noted that Paul and a few allies were tenaciously holding the floor even as a group of fellow Republican senators was committing the heretical act of dining with President Obama across town.
Paul’s speech, believed to be the ninth longest in Senate history, also drew plenty of criticism.
“The country needs more Senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms,” the Wall Street Journal wrote acidly in an editorial that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) read Thursday on the Senate floor.
Either way, Paul had found a means both retro and fresh to draw attention to himself and his issue. “It was a great day in the history of the United States Senate that Rand Paul breathed life into a procedure that many people believed had been bypassed by time,” said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist.
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) discovered the same thing in 2010, when he spoke for more than eight hours against a tax-cut plan that Obama and Republican leaders agreed on.
“The social media was extraordinary. The Senate server broke down,” Sanders said in an interview Thursday, although he added: “The conventional media was not impressed.” Sanders’s speech was even published as a book.
That is because it was something rarely seen in recent years — the old-fashioned kind of filibuster that people associate with the iconic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which an idealistic young senator played by James Stewart talks until he collapses.
The filibuster is as old as the Senate itself. The first one, in 1789, blocked a bill that would have located the nation’s capital on the Susquehanna River. It was famously employed in the 1950s and ’60s to slow down civil rights legislation.
As measured by the number of times cloture motions are filed to cut off debate in the Senate — 115 in the 2011-12 Congress — the filibuster is a more routine occurrence than ever. Efforts to streamline Senate procedures and discourage its use have failed, largely because the party in the majority knows that it may one day end up in the minority, and wants to protect the power to gum up the works.