Updated May 21, 7:18 a.m. | Sen. Rand Paul continued to speak until almost midnight — and his campaign operation continued to solicit fundraising dollars — on the most eventful day of waiting the Senate’s seen in a while.
By the time he yielded the floor after roughly 10 and a half hours, the Kentucky Republican had many colleagues join him on the floor. After finishing, Paul told a small gaggle of reporters who had stayed until the end that he seized an opportunity earlier in the day, and said he didn’t advise Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before doing so.
“I didn’t tell him or anything because obviously if they block you from the floor, you can’t take the floor. So, I had to wait my turn and hope nobody would block me,” Paul said.
Just before surrendering control, at a time where there might have been a chance for McConnell to quickly move to proceed to other business — such as a surveillance bill — and move to limit debate, an obviously winded Paul thanked both the floor personnel and his own staff, saying he would try to only engage in such a speech once every couple of years.
Paul had a number of colleagues provide a bit of relief during his marathon speech that aimed to encourage a robust Senate debate on the surveillance powers granted to the National Security Agency, saying that he and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would insist on offering amendments.
Wyden was, predictably, among Paul’s colleagues who visited him on the floor and ask stem-winding questions, a procedural trick that allowed Paul to get a breather, even if he could not leave his feet.
Some of the senators who joined Paul said they were in agreement on the need for a full debate ahead of June 1, even if they disagreed on the best solution. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is the lead Senate sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, a House-passed bill that would overhaul the surveillance authorities granted after the 9/11 terror attacks, including the elimination of the bulk collection of phone records by the federal government.
“I know firsthand the power that big data holds – I also know the great risks that arise when this power is abused. There is a clear and direct threat to Americans’ civil liberties that comes with the mass collection of our personal information and phone records,” Daines said. “This program is a direct threat to our constitutional rights. It has jeopardized our civil liberties with little proven effectiveness.”
Paul said during his presentation he has concerns that the USA Freedom Act could create a different sort of bulk collection program, just housed at the telephone companies.
That act happens to be co-sponsored by none other than Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who was nowhere to be found during the speech as night came. But later, Cruz arrived. Shortly after 10 p.m., Cruz began to preside over the chamber, taking a handoff from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
When Cruz left the presiding officer’s chair, he turned it over to fellow presidential candidate Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
While Paul discussed his issues with bulk collection, Cruz sat at his own Senate desk politely nodding. Rubio, however, barely looked up, reading “China Now” edition of Foreign Affairs, underlining certain passages and making notes in margins.
After his shift in the chair, Cruz spoke on the floor, asking Paul one of the many long-winded questions.
Rubio kept his head down, staring at the page as Cruz spoke. But his pen, which he had been moving across the page with every word he read, was stuck on the same word. He dogeared the page, at one point he made a note, but he wasn’t reading. He seemed to be listening — even if he only looked up at Cruz or Paul a couple times.
In particular, Cruz spoke to Republicans who favor extending the current authorities provided under Section 215 of the Patriot Act without changes. That’s the preferred position of a group led by McConnell.
“Members of this body have received confidential, classified briefings from the national security officers of this administration. We are not at liberty to convey the specific details of those briefings, but the members of this body have been, number one, that the USA Freedom Act would provide effective tools so that we could prevent acts of terrorism, and indeed they’ve gone further to say that it is entirely possible that under the USA Freedom Act, the national security team would have more effective tools to stop actual terrorists than they do today under the bulk metadata collection of law-abiding citizens,” Cruz said.
While disagreeing on the best legislation, Cruz said that Paul should have a full opportunity to offer amendments to the surveillance bill, which was a key to Paul’s effort.
“I think we’ll know in a couple days whether or not it practically helps us get amendments,” Paul told reporters as he was leaving the Capitol building, adding that he still hopes to stop bulk collection of records.
Although Paul didn’t last past midnight, a spokesman said the speech effectively delayed consideration of any extension of the Patriot Act powers.
The day had been unusual even before the Kentuckian took the floor.
Paul succeeded a baseball Hall of Famer in the Senate, pitcher Jim Bunning, but another All Star whose off-the-field issues seem likely to destroy his Hall of Fame prospects was the man of the hour in the building just before Paul’s extended oratory.
Earlier in the day, New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez was touring the Capitol, stopping on the Senate side to chat with lawmakers headed to their Wednesday lunch meetings.
At one point, Rodriguez seemed particularly interested in speaking with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. He said he had business interests in her state.
It was less than two hours after that encounter that word spread that Paul was heading to the floor, in an event — filibuster or not — that his campaign tried to turn into a full-fledged PR and fundraising bonanza.
And Cruz also did tweet out a fundraising appeal. For his own campaign.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.