It took 46,320 seconds for Sen. Rand Paul to change everything.
The U.S. drone policy. The secretive nature of the CIA’s drone program. Even his own political trajectory. It all changed during an old-school filibuster of the final vote for CIA Director John Brennan, and ended after nearly 13 hours of Rand Paul standing and speaking – the ninth-longest filibuster on record in the U.S. Senate.
It was that span of time – 12 hours and 52 minutes on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 – that launched Rand Paul from Tea Party darling to mainstream political force. Citizens, celebrities, pundits, and politicians were all applauding Paul for his gutsy, lengthy performance.
Suddenly everybody knew who Rand Paul was – he was the guy who stood up (literally and figuratively) to ask a power-hungry Obama administration whether an American could be killed by its own government without due process.
Did the invention of lethal drones render ‘innocent until proven guilty’ moot?
And who doesn’t want that question answered?
Speaking of which, Paul did draw a response out of the Obama administration, which had up until that point remained mostly silent on the subject. You know, national security and all, they said; Americans can’t know if drones can kill Americans because that’s secret important stuff only for important people to know.
But after Paul’s 13-hour filibuster, he – and the American people – got an answer, straight from Attorney General Eric Holder. In a letter delivered on March 7, Holder wrote:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.’ The answer to that question is no.”
Said Paul on FOX News after hearing the letter:
“For 13 hours yesterday we asked that question, and so there is a result and a victory…Under duress and under public humiliation the White House will respond and do the right thing.”
The filibuster also drew the attention of curious Americans. As a Gallup poll two weeks later showed, 79 percent of Americans stand with Paul in believing that drone strikes should not be used on American soil to kill an American citizen suspected of terrorism.
Then two months later, in late May, Obama himself gave a sprawling speech on his administration’s drone policy, promising more transparency.
We’ll never actually know if Obama would have responded the way he did if it weren’t for Paul using his position to draw attention to the issue and demand an answer. But look at the numbers. Look at the support. Look at Paul’s stature in the months since. He’s now considered not just a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but arguably one of the favorites.
To be at that point just three years into your first term ever as an elected official is rare, and it speaks volumes about Paul’s message and the mindset of the American people. Right now, they seem to be in lockstep.
And you can trace that rise all the way back to those 46,320 seconds in early March.
Photograph Courtesy of Gage Skidmore, via Flickr Creative Commons
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