Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky who became famous(er) following a drone-related filibuster in March, has now threatened to take similar action to block a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.
As people saw when I did this previously, you can talk for only so long and eventually nature calls. So you can slow things down and sometimes get an answer to things, but you can't permanently delay.
By the afternoon, that limitation apparently offered less of an obstacle. In a statement to The New York Times, a Paul aide confirmed that the senator would indeed try and force the Senate to a 60-vote threshold for action. "The decision," the paper reports, "likely will scramble the Senate schedule and could delay any vote of the Senate for days." Not welcome news for a president eager for action.
Update, 4:00 p.m.: Or, maybe he won't. The Washington Post reports that Paul told Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia any threats to hold a filibuster "would be a misinterpretation from the media."
What's interesting is Paul's rationale for the move. Slate's Dave Weigel reported that the senator wasn't convinced that action could do anything but harm.
His fear, stated simply: Anything we do is likely to make the region messier, so why do anything?
"Is it more or less likely if the region will be more or less stable if we have this attack?" he asked, after I asked him whether he worried about the country losing clout if Congress prevented an airstrike. "Same thing for Israel -- is it more or less likely that Israel will be attacked? I think there are valid arguments for saying the region will be more unstable if we get a superpower involved in a civil war, more unstable for Israel if we get a superpower involved and the Syrians feel like they have to show Israel something, or Iran gets involved. Russia feels like they're losing face and they need to get more involved." Nobody knew, he said. "It's all conjecture."
Weigel notes another reason offered by Paul, a similar sort of sideways rationale as the one that motivated his opposition to Brennan. His previous filibuster was generally understood to be in opposition to the use of drones; in reality, it was an effort to get a response from the administration on whether or not it reserved the right to use drones to attack American citizens within America's borders. (Holder responded in a letter: "No.")
The Syria filibuster appears to be spurred to some degree by Paul's religion. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Paul explained his thoughts.
I think the line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened. I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war. I see Assad, who has protected Christians for a number of decades, and then I see the Islamic rebels on the other side who have been attacking Christians. I see al Qaeda on one side, the side we would go in to support, and I see it to be murky.
As the Huffington Post noted, the genesis of Paul's claims about rebels attacking Christians isn't clear, but he may have been referring to events in Egypt. Paul's comments to Weigel seems to support that idea. Regardless, it's a perhaps-unexpected rationale for a senator heavily linked to the libertarian philosophy to offer.
After his March filibuster, Paul became something of a cult hero for his stance, misunderstood though it may have been. How the public understands and reacts to a Paul filibuster of action in Syria — a much higher-profile and fraught issue than a presidential nomination — will be interesting to see.