It’s every parent’s nightmare. Kids too old for a babysitter have to be left home alone while you attend an un- cancelable business dinner. Everything is going well. Food’s great. Company’s cordial. A relaxing evening.
Then the calls start coming in. The tweets. The emails.
The reports of what’s going on back at the house while you are out. And for the rest of the dinner, a tiny cloud hangs over the table.
Will the youngsters ruin what could the beginning of a productive relationship?
That’s what happened on Wednesday evening as Republican leaders met with President Obama for a twelve on one dinner that the Pres picked up the tab for. While the wining and dining went on, led by one rebellious rebel with a cause, GOP youngsters took over the floor of the Senate.
And for twelve hours and fifty four minutes, a real live on TV filibuster was conducted by Rand Paul.
Paul started his talkathon a little before noon eastern time, so the leadership knew what he was up to. No way to talk him out of making a fool of himself, so let him talk until his voice or his bladder gave out.
What leaders failed to realize when they toddled off was that Paul and a gang of tea party Senators together with one lone Democrat would take focus from the most important meeting to take place in DC at least since last July when “sequester” became a word everyone would need to learn to spell.
And they underestimated the resonance that Paul’s message would have. Drone warfare cuts across party lines. Begun by Republican President Bush, supported by Vice President Biden who urged that drones should take the place of the surge in Afghanistan, and expanded by President Obama to “take out” (kill) suspected terrorists everywhere, drone warfare has been an increasingly large part of the War on Terror. The secretive program has killed thousands, including at least two American citizens, one a sixteen year old boy. Fear of drones and collateral damage to those in the wrong place at the wrong time is fueling hatred of the US around the Muslim world. Use of drones is rumored to be spreading into other military and police actions. Civil libertarians, like Paul, and the ACLU (!) that he quoted, worry that drones will be used to eliminate those who may or may not pose a threat.
Paul’s filibuster began with a seemingly simple question: Would the government use drones to kill Americans on American soil?
The top government lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a lawyerly answer – it depends. Refusing to answer hypothetical questions is bone deep in attorneys. Law school hypotheticals that start out with simple yes or no answers descend farther and farther into areas where there is no answer. Holder was not willing to tie future attorney generals into a policy that would come back to bite them.
But Holder’s hesitation was enough to set Senator Paul on his marathon. Paul admitted early on that he had little chance of stopping the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director. Brennan is a leading advocate of drone warfare. Paul kept saying he would go home if and when the President or someone in his administration acknowledged there is a lack of constitutional due process in- as he quaintly put it – spoiling one’s café experience with a Hellfire missile.
While Paul began the filibuster alone, he was joined by his buds who posed questions to him that turned into long speeches that gave him breaks. Texas Senator Ted Cruz read tweets praising Paul throughout the evening. Senator Marco Rubio quoted a hip hop artist, adding to the stretchy evening.
None of the Senators supporting Paul were invited to the President’s party. They are the new kids on the block who have not learned that their elders know best. That we do things a certain way in the Senate. Paul and his pals insist on making waves in the smoothly running pond that is the US Senate.
While the grown ups were away, the Senate kids through a party.
And all of Washington watched.
Now it remains to be seen if there will be groundings and privileges withdrawn now that the Dads (no moms were invited) are home.
Somehow, we don’t really think Rand Paul would have changed one word had he known there would be hell to pay today.