Sen. Rand Paul spent most of Wednesday talking.
Paul took to the Senate floor at 1:18 p.m. Wednesday, interrupting a debate on a trade bill, to speak against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act. With the exception of breaks to allow colleagues to speak, he talked, and stood, for nearly 11 hours before yielding the floor just before midnight.
The Kentucky Republican’s marathon seizure of the Senate came after a week of repeatedly threatening to filibuster a reauthorization of the Patriot Act — a fight he conceded Monday he cannot win, because he does not have the votes.
“Are you really willing to give up your liberty for security?” Paul asked.
Paul spoke for about 2
“I think we accomplished something,” Paul said after he was done.
Paul has been here before, rocketing to prominence in 2013 after speaking for 13 hours on the Senate floor — and vowing in his new book to wear tennis shoes the next time he filibustered. Last time, he had help from a large group of Senate colleagues. This time, he had a much smaller group by his side.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) took to the floor, as did Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.). Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) joined Paul later in the evening. And four additional Democrats gave Paul a hand later Wednesday night: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Christopher A. Coons (Del.) and Jon Tester (Mont.)
Late Wednesday night Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), two of his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination, showed up in the chamber. Cruz presided over the body and, when done, spoke on the floor. Cruz urged colleagues to support the USA Freedom Act and said Paul should be allowed to introduce amendments to Patriot Act legislation. Rubio presided and appeared to be engrossed in a magazine. He and Cruz spoke at length during Paul’s 2013 filibuster, with Rubio quoting rappers Wiz Khalifa and Jay Z on the Senate floor.
“It was kind of nice to have bipartisan support. I think really there’s unanimity among a lot of us that the bulk collection ought to end,” Paul said.
Wednesday’s speech was poised to be a potential inflection point for Paul’s presidential campaign as, after a series of early stumbles, he seized the moment to very publicly distinguish himself from his competitors — and gauge whether a hawkish party would take to his message that there should be greater limits on government surveillance. As he began speaking, Paul’s team blasted out e-mails and issued a flurry of tweets urging supporters to “#StandWithRand,” and it continued to promote Paul’s speech all night. A group of about 30 Paul supporters gathered outside the Senate on Wednesday evening, waving signs from Paul’s presidential campaign.
And the candidate asked people to imagine a commander in chief whose policies would sound much like his own. “Let’s say tomorrow we elected a president who ended the bulk collection of data,” he said. “Let’s just say it happened.”
He spoke about the bulk collection of data. He spoke about civil forfeiture. He spoke about Section 213 of the Patriot Act, “this whole sneak-and-peek” that allows the government to come into a person’s house. He spoke about criminal justice. And spying. And a 1928 court case. And the Ninth Amendment. Every half-hour or so a new stenographer came over to stand by Paul’s desk, relieving the previous one.
Most of all, Paul spoke about how the Patriot Act allows for the collection of bulk surveillance. “We should be in open rebellion, saying enough’s enough,” he said.
“Where’s the outrage?” he asked. The chamber was nearly empty, save for a few staffers seated in the back and a security guard standing near the door. Five Senate pages sat on the steps of the dais, looking directly at Paul. One young woman twirled the end of her hair. A young man picked at his cuticles.
While Paul has made the debate over surveillance a central issue, other 2016 candidates have mentioned it only in passing or when spurred by news.
Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have vociferously defended the need for surveillance. Cruz is a sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, a compromise bill that would end bulk collection but allow the data to remain with private companies.
Paul voted against a version of Cruz’s USA Freedom Act last year because he said it did not go far enough, enraging some privacy advocates who claim his vote killed a chance at reform. Paul said earlier this week he would not support the USA Freedom Act.
Paul, who can appear disinterested and aloof on the campaign trail, grows animated when talking about privacy and the Fourth Amendment, telling crowds that the “phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of [the government’s] damn business,” telling sympathetic crowds that he represents the “leave me alone” coalition — people who do not want the government infringing on their personal liberties — and that the government is constantly overstepping its bounds into the lives of ordinary Americans.
“May the Fourth Amendment be with you!” a man shouted at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., earlier this month. The crowd went wild.
In Paul’s campaign store, which features everything from beer koozies to flip-flops to tote bags to a Rand Paul cornhole game set, supporters can buy an “NSA spy cam blocker” for $15 or a T-shirt reading “Don’t Drone Me, Bro,” a reference to his 2013 filibuster on drones and the nomination of John O. Brennan as CIA director.
Grover Norquist, the libertarian-leaning president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the fight over the Patriot Act will broaden Paul’s name recognition and provide him with a wider audience than his past filibuster.
“He will reintroduce himself to a wider audience on an issue much more popular than the establishment thinks, and an issue much more popular than his critics think,” Norquist said.
As the evening wore on, Paul kept speaking. More about the Patriot Act. More about courts. More about agencies trying to find a needle in a haystack — the haystack being the lives of ordinary Americans.
As he spoke, Paul ripped off his glasses and paced a bit behind his desk. About 7 1/2 hours in, he dashed to a desk in the back of the chamber and grabbed some candy. About a half-hour later he stopped speaking briefly and popped a piece of candy into his mouth, fingering the silver wrapper, then swallowed and started talking about a Boston Globe story about metadata.
Early in the afternoon it appeared he had not taken his own advice on proper filibustering footwear: When he first took to the floor Wednesday, he’d sported a pair of wingtip shoes.
But as the hours passed he paced some more, walked between desks , stretched his calves by standing on his toes and kicked his legs in the air — and started sporting sneakers with bright yellow laces. But they still didn’t help.
“Even with better shoes my feet still hurt,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to stand in one place.”