A few weeks ago, Rand Paul revived the talking filibuster in a scene reminiscent of the Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He highlighted the Obama administration’s odd reluctance to state that it wouldn’t assassinate Americans on American soil with CIA-controlled drones for a full day, helped by fellow Senate Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, among others, and also by Senate Democrat Ron Wyden. The White House finally gave a more specific answer to the question, and Paul raised public awareness on the drone issue, although it’s arguable what effect that actually had.
If you liked the original, get ready for the sequel. Paul and Cruz will inform Harry Reid this morning of their intent to filibuster the gun-control bill that Reid wants to bring to the floor for a vote, supposedly with bipartisan support:
Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are threatening to filibuster gun-control legislation, according to a letter they plan to hand-deliver to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office on Tuesday.
“We will oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions,” the three conservatives wrote in a copy of the signed letter obtained by POLITICO. …
Though they don’t use the word “filibuster” in the letter, the conservatives are leaving no doubt that they would filibuster on an initial procedural question — the motion to proceed.
Lee staged a test vote on the issue during consideration of the Senate budget last week. He tried to amend a point of order against gun control legislation to the budget but fell short. It needed a three-fifths supermajority and failed 50-49, needing 60 votes to pass. But the final tally emboldened Lee, Paul and Cruz because they were so close to a majority and a filibuster takes just 41 votes to sustain.
I’m not so sure Reid will mind this new effort. He does already have a few Republicans on his side, including John McCain, and a filibuster would play into his strategy to paint the GOP as a party hijacked by its extremist backbenchers. McCain didn’t help by calling both Paul and Cruz “wacko birds” shortly after the filibuster. Reid will have his eye on 2014, and a filibuster of a bill that doesn’t contain a controversial assault-weapons ban but instead consists of very popular expansion of background checks will provide plenty of fodder for that line of attack next year. Let’s not forget that expanded background checks are a lot more popular than drone strikes on American citizens.
It may even provide Reid fodder to revisit filibuster reform, although no one ever actually suggested ridding the Senate of the talking filibuster in any of the reform permutations. The assumption was that Senators wouldn’t bother with an old-fashioned speechfest, straight out of Jimmy Stewart playbook. They are difficult to sustain, and eventually Reid can wait out Paul and Cruz and get his floor vote, especially if other Republicans begin to worry about helping Reid out in the midterms.
In the end, though, the Senate version won’t go anywhere even if it does get a floor vote. The House will not pass any version that requires firearm registrations, which is what Senate Democrats want to pass. A filibuster that focuses on that narrow issue may raise its profile in the same way that the previous filibuster did for drones, but it’s questionable whether that will move the needle — or whether it even needs to do so.