If I had planned to speak for 13 hours when I took the Senate floor, I would’ve worn more comfortable shoes. I started my filibuster with the words, “I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA. I will speak until I can no longer speak” — and I meant it.
I wanted to sound an alarm bell from coast to coast. I wanted everybody to know that our Constitution is precious and that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime. As Americans, we have fought long and hard for the Bill of Rights. The idea that no person shall be held without due process, and that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted, is a founding American principle and a basic right.
My official starting time was 11:47 a.m. on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
I had a large binder of materials to help me get through my points, but although I sometimes read an op-ed or prepared remarks in between my thoughts, most of my filibuster was off the top of my head and straight from my heart. From 1 to 2 p.m., I barely looked at my notes. I wanted to make sure that I touched every point and fully explained why I was demanding more information from the White House.
Just before 3 p.m., Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) came to the Senate floor to help out. Under Senate rules, I could not yield the floor or my filibuster would end, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could have shut me down. The only way for me to continue and allow Sens. Lee and Cruz to speak was to yield the floor for questions.
Their presence gave me strength and inspiration. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) also arrived to help. Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the only Democrat who came to my defense, explained how we have worked together to demand more information from the White House about the rules for drone strikes. At about 4:30 p.m., Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined. I was flagging for a while, but these senators kept me going.
Sen. Reid came to the Senate floor to ask me when I would be done so he could schedule a vote. But I wasn’t ready to yield. I felt I had a lot more explaining to do.
At about 6:30 p.m., something extraordinary happened. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been recovering from a stroke, came to the floor to give me something. I was not allowed to drink anything but water or eat anything but the candy left in our Senate desks. But he brought me an apple and a thermos full of tea — the same sustenance Jimmy Stewart brought to the Senate floor in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” That was a moment I will never forget.
Sen. Cruz came to the floor again just before 7:30 p.m. and said, “Given that the Senate rules do not allow for the use of cellular phones on the floor of the Senate, I feel quite confident that the senator from Kentucky is not aware of the Twitter-verse that has been exploding.”
I had little idea of what was going on. I was allowed only to talk and listen to questions. As I started to walk around the Senate chamber to loosen up my legs, I was energized by the responses on Twitter. Sen. Cruz really lifted my spirits when he read the tweets.
Then something unexpected happened. House conservatives started appearing in the back of the chamber to show their support. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who stayed for five hours, offered me his boots when I complained that I had not worn my most comfortable shoes. My good friend Rep. Thomas Massie from Kentucky came over. And then came the conservative cavalry of Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Garland “Andy” Barr (Ky.), Trey Radel (Fla.), Michael Burgess (Tex.), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Raul R. Labrador (Idaho), Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Richard Hudson (N.C.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.).
Over the evening I had the support of Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), John Cornyn (Tex.), John Thune (S.D.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). And Sens. Cruz, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) used the opportunity to make their first speaking appearances on the Senate floor. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) came at the end to speak, but after midnight, I had said enough.
By the end of the night, I was tired and my voice was cracking. I ended by saying, “The cause here is one that I think is important enough to have gone through this procedure.” I talked about the idea of compromise, but said that “you don’t get half of the Fifth Amendment.” I argued that we need more extended debates. And finally, at 12:40 a.m., I yielded the floor.
The next day, the Senate confirmed John Brennan as director of the CIA. But this debate isn’t over.
The Senate has the power to restrain the executive branch — and my filibuster was the beginning of the fight to restore a healthy balance of powers. The president still needs to definitively say that the United States will not kill American noncombatants. The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment applies to all Americans; there are no exceptions.
The outpouring of support for my filibuster has been overwhelming and heartening. My office has fielded thousands of calls. Millions have followed this debate on TV, Twitter and Facebook. The day after the filibuster, the White House produced another letter explaining its position on drone strikes. But the administration took too long, and parsed too many words and phrases, to instill confidence in its willingness or ability to protect our liberty.
I hope my efforts help spur a national debate about the limits of executive power and the scope of every American’s natural right to be free. “Due process” is not just a phrase that can be ignored at the whim of the president; it is a right that belongs to every citizen in this great nation.
I believe the support I have received shows that Americans are looking for someone to really stand up and fight for them. And I’m prepared to do just that.