Cliffs Notes for the Filibuster: Rand Paul in His Own Words

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The Kentucky Republican's nearly 13-hour stand on the Senate floor, condensed into a tight brief for civil liberties

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Associated Press

Senator Rand Paul spent nearly 13 hours on the Senate floor Wednesday conducting an old-fashioned filibuster. If you don't have a whole day to watch the C-SPAN footage, or a couple hours to read the transcripts, here's a condensed version that includes most of the points he made.

On the purpose of his filibuster:

"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."

Why he worries about killing within the United States:

"When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It's an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, 'no.' The president's response? He hasn't killed anyone yet. We're supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, I haven't killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, 'and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might.' 

"Is that enough?

"Are we satisfied by that?

"Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans?"

The Constitutional grounds for his objections:

"What does the Fifth Amendment say? The Fifth Amendment says that no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on presentment or indictment of a grand jury. It is pretty explicit. The Fifth Amendment protects you, it protects from you a king placing you in the tower, but it also should protect from you a president that might kill you with a drone. We were granted due process. It's not always easy to sort out the details of who is a threat." 

Why he is frustrated with President Obama:

"The answer should be so easy. I cannot imagine that he will not expressly come forward and say, no, I will not kill Americans on American soil. I can't understand the president's unwillingness to say, he's not going to kill noncombatants. Think about that. He's unwilling to say publicly that he's not going to kill noncombatants, because that's what we're talking about here. I'm not talking about someone with a bazooka a grenade launcher on their shoulder. Anyone committing lethal force can be repelled with lethal force. No one argues that point. I'm talking about whether you can kill noncombatants, because many of the people being killed overseas are noncombatants .... We're talking about people eating in a cafe, at home, in a restaurant.

"I think we need to be a little more careful."

The problem with a War on Terrorism unbound by geography:

"Alarm bells should go off when people tell you that the battlefield's in America. Why? Because when the battlefield's in America, we don't have due process. What they're talking about is they want the laws of war. They call it the laws of war. Another way to put it is to call it martial law. That's what they want in the United States when they say the battlefield is here... When people tell you that America is a battlefield, when they tell you that the battlefield is here, realize what they are telling you. They are telling you your Bill of Rights don't apply, because in the battlefield, you really don't have due process, and I'm not arguing for that. I'm not arguing for some kind of silly rules for soldiers to ask Miranda rights and do all this. War is war. War is hell. But we can't have perpetual war. We can't have war that has no temporal limits, and we can't then have war that is a part of our daily life in our country, that we're going to say from now on in our country you really don't have the protections of the bill of rights. So I think it's -- it's incredibly important. And we have been kind of blase about this whole drone strike program, and it should come home to where we can really think about it because that's what they are asking to do."

What if there's an attack on U.S. soil?

"No one is questioning whether the U.S. can repel an attack. No one is questioning whether your local police can repel an attack. Anybody involved in lethal force, the legal doctrine in our country has always been that the government can repel lethal attacks. The problem is that the drone strike program is often not about combatants. It is about people who may or may not be conspiring but they're not in combat. They're in a car, they're in their house, they're in a restaurant, they're in a cafe. If we're going to bring that standard to America, what I'm doing down here today is asking the president to be explicit. If you're going to have the standard that you're going to kill noncombatants in America, come forward and please say it clearly so we know what we're up against.

"If you're not going to do it, come up with the easy answer, is I'm not going to kill noncombatants. That would have been easy for him to say."

The bipartisan nature of his effort:

"This is the first time that I've decided to come to the floor and speak in a true filibuster. People talk about the filibuster all the time, they say the filibuster is overused and it's abused. A lot of times the filibuster in our country and in the Senate is actually requesting the 60 votes happen and we have to do everything by unanimous consent, so it almost never happens. I've been here two years and I don't think I've seen anybody come to the floor  and speak in an open and spoken filibuster as I am today. I think it is important, though, and I think the issue rises to such an occasion because I think there are a lot of things we disagree on, Republicans and Democrats .... But the reason I came to the floor today to do this is because I think certain things rise above party politics.

"Certain things rise above partisanship. And I think your right to be secure in your person, the right to be secure in your liberty, the right to be tried by a jury of your peers -- these are things that are so important and rise to such a level that we shouldn't give up on them easily. And I don't see this battle as a partisan battle at all of the I don't see this as Republicans versus Democrats.

"I would be here if there were a Republican president doing this.

"The interesting thing about these battles is they are not really always Republican versus Democrat. These are battles that are sometimes really coalitions of people from the right and people from the left who have gotten together and fought on these things. On trying to get the President to acknowledge that he won't do drone strikes, there have been people on the Democratic side of the aisle who have allied with me and helped me to get some of this information. In fact, the president would have refused probably until hell froze over of giving me anything, but the fact that we got a few Democrats on there to ask for the information also, all of a sudden we had a coalition and we were able to get some information. But it hasn't been easy, and that's what's worrisome."

Why he is disappointed in Obama:

"I'm a Republican. I didn't vote or support the president either time, but I admired him, particularly in 2007 when he ran. I admired his ability to stand up and say we won't torture people, that's not what America does. How does the President's mind work, though? The President that seemed so honorable, seemed so concerned with our rights, seemed so concerned with the right not to have your phone be tapped now says he's not concerned with whether you can be killed without a trial. The leap of logic is so fantastic as to boggle the mind. Where is the Barack Obama of 2007? Has the presidency so transformed him that he has forgotten his moorings, forgotten what he stood for? Civil libertarians once expected more from the president.

"Barack Obama of 2007 would be right down here with me arguing against this drone strike program if he were in the Senate. It amazes and disappoints me how much he has actually changed from what he once stood for."

Why he thinks Obama changed:

"I would say it is sort of a contagion or an infection that affects Republicans and Democrats when they get into the white house. They see the power that the presidency has. It's enormous. They see themselves as good people, and they say I can't give up any power because I'm going to do good with that power. The problem they don't see is that the power itself is intoxicating, and the power someday may be in the hands of someone else who is less inclined to use it in a good way. I think that's why the power grows and grows and grows -- because everybody believes themselves to be doing the right thing."

Does he think Obama is going to kill innocent citizens like some kind of tyrant?

"I don't question the president's motives. I don't think the president would purposely take innocent people and kill them. I really don't think he would drop a Hellfire missile on a cafe or a restaurant like I'm talking about. But it bothers me that he won't say that he won't .... This decision to let this go, to let this nomination go without an answer is a big mistake for us. If we do this, if we let this nomination go without a debate, without significant opposition, without demanding more answers from the president, the problem is, is we're never getting any more answers .... Our rights are gradually eroding. I think they are gradually slipping away from us. I think the understanding of the Constitution as a document that restrains your government, that restrains the size and scope of your government has been lost on a lot of people, and I think it's something we shouldn't give up on ...

"When we're talking about changing the way that we adjudicate guilt, changing the way we decide someone's life or death, it's too important just to say, oh, Mr. President, go ahead and do it and as long as you tell me you have no intent of breaking the law or no intent of killing Americans. 

"It just simply isn't enough.

"I, frankly, don't think he will be killing people in restaurants tonight or in their house tonight. But this is about the rule of law. It isn't so much about him. It isn't so much about John Brennan .... This is about the body of the Constitution. It's about our respect for it. And it's about whether or not we will hold these principles so dear that we're willing to try to enjoin a debate to try to get both sides to talk about this and to try to admit because we don't want people to be killed who are innocent in America. We want to have the process that has protected our freedoms for a couple hundred years now to remain in place, and we're unwilling to diminish that simply because of fear."

Why isn't it sufficient process for the executive branch to determine that someone is a terrorist?"There has been discussion in our country about whether even the courts can sometimes make mistakes. Some states have gotten rid of the death penalty because they have made mistakes and through their DNA testing found that they sometimes convicted the wrong person. Can you imagine with all the checks and balances of our court system, which I think is the best in the entire world, with attorneys on both sides, whether you can afford one or not, there is argument back and forth and you have these procedural protections and you can appeal, and sometimes you can still get it wrong. If we can get it wrong in the best system in the world, do you think one politician might get it wrong? But you will a never know because nobody is told who is going to be killed. It is a secret list. So how do you protest? How do you say, I'm innocent? How do you say, yes, I email with my cousin who lives in the Middle East, and I didn't know he was involved in that? Do you not get a chance to explain yourself in a court of law before you get a hellfire missile dropped on your head? So I think that really, it just amazes me that people are so willing and eager to throw out the bill of rights and just say, oh, that's fine. You know, terrorists are a big threat to us. And, you know, I am a so fearful that they will attack me that I'm willing to give up my rights, I'm willing to give up on the bill of rights? I think we give up too easily."
 
Why he is disappointed in his colleagues:

"If there were an ounce of courage in this body, I would be joined by many other senators saying that they will not tolerate this, that we will come together today in bipartisan fashion and tell the president, tell any president that no president will ever have the authority to kill Americans without a trial.

"There was, at one point in time in our history, a pride among the Senate and a pride among the Congress that said these are our powers and we're not giving them up. There were people on both sides of the aisle who would stand firm and say this is not a power I'm willing to relinquish.

"This is not something that is good for the country. And by relinquishing the power of Congress, we relinquish something very fundamental to our republic, which is the checks and balances that we should have checks and balances to help and try to prevent one body or one part of the three parts of government from obtaining too much power. And so there was a time when we have tried to keep that power. Unfortunately, the bipartisanship that we have now, which many in the media fail to understand, they see us not getting along on taxes and on spending, but they fail to understand that on something very important, on whether or not an individual has a right to a trial by jury, whether an individual has the right to not be detained indefinitely, that there is quite a bit of bipartisanship.

"Usually in the wrong direction."

(Disclosure: Senator Paul quoted articles I wrote several times during his filibuster.)
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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