Rand Paul wraps 10-hour 'filibuster' over NSA surveillance program

Story highlights

  • Paul's speech wasn't technically a filibuster because of intricate Senate rules
  • Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden joined Paul in support

Washington (CNN)After 10 hours and 30 minutes, Sen. Rand Paul relinquished the Senate floor late Wednesday night, ending his "filibuster" over National Security Agency surveillance programs authorized under the Patriot Act.

Paul, R-Kentucky, ran through several binders of material over the course of his marathon protest, and also got some help from 10 fellow senators -- three Republicans and seven Democrats.
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, were the biggest boons to Paul's efforts, joining Paul on the Senate floor several times to give the Kentucky Republican a chance to catch his breath -- and often grab a sip of water and pop a candy in his mouth. And one of Paul's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, also ended up helping Paul's efforts late in the night.
"There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. That time is now and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," Paul said at the opening of his remarks, and those who joined him on the Senate floor shared his concerns and stressed the need to reform the Patriot Act.
The Senate is considering whether to reauthorize or reform a crucial section of that law that gives the government sweeping powers to collect phone metadata on millions of Americans in an effort to thwart terrorist plots. The House last week overwhelmingly approved a bill to reform that law.
The NSA's bulk collection program expires at midnight on June 1, and the Department of Justice warned in a memo shared by a GOP aide on Wednesday that the agency will have to begin preparing a week before the expiration date for a potential lapse in the law.

Was it a filibuster?

Paul's talk-a-thon Wednesday came more than two years after his nearly 13-hour filibuster in 2013, which was widely anticipated and brought him national attention for delaying the confirmation of CIA chief John Brennan to draw attention to U.S. drone policies.
But his speech Wednesday wasn't technically a filibuster because intricate Senate rules required him to stop talking by early Thursday afternoon for an unrelated vote.
Still, Paul's office insists it was a filibuster, saying Paul prevented lawmakers from taking action to reauthorize the Patriot Act while he had the floor.
"Sen. Paul will speak until he can no longer speak," spokeswoman Jillian Lane said Wednesday.
Paul began speaking at about 1:20 p.m. ET. More than two hours later, Wyden, Paul's Democratic partner-in-crime on stopping the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, joined him on the floor to aid the effort.
Paul slammed Congress for not scheduling enough time to debate whether to reform the Patriot Act and to debate the merits of NSA surveillance.
"At the very least we should debate, we should debate whether or not we are going to relinquish our rights or whether or not we are going to have a full and able debate over whether or not we can live within the constitution or whether or not we have to go around the constitution," Paul said on the floor.
And as his voice waned in the 10th hour of his time on the floor, Paul again emphasized the need for an open and "honest" debate about the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance.
And he again hammered home the need for Congress to uphold the Constitution as it takes action on the Patriot Act.
"There is absolutely no excuse -- no excuse not to debate this, no excuse not to vote on a sufficient amount of amendments to try to make this better, to try to make the bulk collection of records go away. It's what the American people want, it's what the Constitution demands," Paul said.

Patriot Act, NSA debate

The debate over NSA reform has pitted Republican leadership in the House and Senate against each other.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, on Wednesday lamented that ongoing deadlock, slamming GOP leaders for failing so far to broker a deal to keep key provisions of the Patriot Act alive.
"We go dark -- in a high threat environment, that's a very dangerous thing to do, that's dangerous politics," McCaul told reporters Wednesday. "I'm disappointed that we're not able to work this out and now we're going to do this ping pong game and play politics with national security."
And McCaul added that Paul's "filibuster" drove home his point about the dangers of politics interfering with national security.
"That's my point," he said.
Paul and Wyden both talked up the amendments during Wednesday's so-called filibuster that they are proposing to add to the USA Freedom Act, a reform bill the House overwhelmingly passed last week. Paul and Wyden are pushing for additional reforms not included in the measure, a compromise bill between reform advocates in the House and House Republican leadership.
Wyden added to Paul's lambasting of the NSA's bulk data collection programs and also slammed national security hawks in Congress who have repeatedly held back reforms, Wyden alleged.
"They wait until the very last minute," Wyden said. "They wait until the last minute and then they say, 'Oh my goodness it is a dangerous world we've got to continue this program the way it is!'"
And Lee, who is the chief Republican sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, also joined Paul on the Senate floor, promoting his bill and slamming a dysfunctional Congress that he said isn't serving the American people well on surveillance and other issues.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Paul's fellow Kentucky senator, is staunchly opposed to NSA reforms, but said he would allow a vote on the legislation.
Passage on that bill is anything but certain though, with some senators supportive of moderate reforms hoping to weaken the bill, while others, like Paul and Wyden, want the bill to do more.
Paul voted against allowing debate on a previous version of the USA Freedom Act last year, saying it did not go far enough.

A fundraising opportunity

"The people don't want the bulk collection of their records. And if we were listening we'd hear that," Paul said.
The Kentucky Republican was also using his "filibuster" as an opportunity to rally his supporters and raise money for his presidential campaign.
While Paul was speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, his campaign sent an email to supporters asking for donations to support his presidential ambitions.
And his marathon session on the floor also jolted his supporters, who posted photos of themselves watching Paul's speech throughout the ten and a half hours, using the hashtag #StandwithRand that had emerged during Paul's famed 2013 filibuster.
Paul also slammed President Barack Obama for refusing to end the program through executive order, despite saying he opposes the bulk data collection program.
"He has every power to stop it, and yet the president does nothing," Paul said of Obama.

Watch government like a hawk

Paul repeatedly drew on the Founding Fathers as he laid out his arguments why the government should not be allowed to collect troves of information on innocent Americans in the name of counterterrorism.
"If government were comprised of angels, we wouldn't need restrictions, we wouldn't need laws," Paul said quoting James Madison. He later quoted Ben Franklin as well.
But Paul, a libertarian-leaning conservative, had his own words as well, insisting that Americans should always be wary of the government and increasing government power.
"Anytime you give power to government, they love it, and they will accumulate more," he said. "They will not live within the confines of power unless you watch them. Like a hawk, you've got to watch them.