U.S. CAPITOL – If you’re online at this hour, you probably know that Sen. Rand Paul has held the floor of the U.S. Senate for more than nine hours. He is filibustering President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, objecting to the apparent Obama administration policy that it can execute, without trial or charge, U.S. citizens, even when they pose no imminent threat, and even when they are on U.S. soil.
I’ve spent most of tonight in and around the Senate chamber. Here are some things you may not know, if you’re just watching on C-Span:
Paul’s ability to communicate and strategize is very limited: While he’s addressing the Senate, Paul obviously isn’t chatting with his staff. Even when a question gives him a break, he can’t check email, because he can’t bring a phone on the floor. From time to time, his staff brings him notes for him read. A few times, when no friendly senators were on the floor, Paul briefly paused his speaking to read a note from staff. He would often then cover his lapel mic and whisper to the staffer.
Sen. Mark Kirk made a touching gesture, and reference to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Around 6:15, Sen. Mark Kirk came onto the Senate floor. Kirk is recovering from a stroke, and so he painfully limped, with a cane in his right hand, and his left leg rigid, down the stairs to the well, where Paul’s desk was. Kirk then delivered to Paul — while Paul was speaking — a thermos and an apple. Those were Jimmy Stewart’s sustenance during his filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The thermos had hot tea in it.
Paul has been snacking on candy: I think I saw him eat Peanut Chews. And either peanuts or raisin I think.
Reporters cannot tweet or publish anything from the chamber. There’s a press gallery behind the chair. But we’re not allowed to bring our laptops or phones down there. So, if something interesting happens we want to tweet or blog on, we must retreat to a lounge of sorts, just off the gallery, recover our phones or laptops, and write away.
Usually, there are no Democrats on the floor, often no other Senators at all. From 4:30 to 6:45, for instance, there were no Democrats on the Senate floor at all. From 5 pm until Kirk showed up around 6:15, I think Paul was the only Senator on the floor at all. Democrats rotate as president of the Senate, with mostly freshmen holding down that job — during which they write (by hand, no laptops), or read. I saw Sen. Richard Blumenthal clandestinely checking his Blackberry, though, I think.
- Paul has been standing the whole time: When Paul takes questions from other Senators, he continues to hold the floor. For that reason, he must continue to stand–on the floor. Some of his allies have deliberately given very lengthy questions, which gives Paul a break, and a chance to talk with his staff, but not to go to the bathroom, catch a smoke, or rest his feet.