Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are both using the U.S. Senate floor to brand themselves conservative fighters defying the Republican establishment as they vie for the 2016 presidential nomination. Paul just showed Cruz how to do it without being labeled a bomb thrower.
After wrapping up more than 10 hours of talk on the Senate floor to protest U.S. surveillance laws, Paul is taking credit for "filibustering," or trying to prevent the Senate from renewing portions of the Patriot Act that allow the government to collect American's phone records in bulk. He's deftly turned the fight into a fundraising appeal on his presidential website and on social media.
What his loyal libertarian followers who gathered outside the Capitol to support him don't know is that, inside Congress, Paul is also getting props from both Democrats who agree with him and Republicans who don't for choosing a minimally invasive strategy that spares them all from staying at the Capitol over the Memorial Day weekend. Although Paul could continue to slow the bill down, he has given no indication that he intends to further delay the lawmakers' upcoming recess.
By timing his speech to end minutes before midnight, Paul avoided delaying the vote on legislation that would renew the program for two months. He chose the less confrontational course despite the fact that the House just voted in favor of his position and a recent court ruling calling the program illegal. Though Paul has made the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' phone records a centerpiece of his Senate career and presidential platform, he conducted his latest delaying tactics during time allotted for debate on an unrelated trade measure. That means that he's not responsible for delaying a vote on the anti-terrorism law, which expires June 1.
Paul's maneuver, which allowed him to make his point without disrupting colleagues, stands in contrast to the more in-your-face style of Cruz, the Texas senator who gained national notoriety for instigating a 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare. In December, Cruz called a late-night point of order to protest President Barack Obama's immigration executive orders, requiring many of his colleagues, including West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, to turn around and head back to Washington to entertain the procedural move. As a result, even many senators who agreed with the Cruz effort rejected it. Cruz during a closed-door policy luncheon later apologized to his colleagues for inconveniencing them.
Senate colleagues appear to be taking note of the stylistic differences between the two iconoclastic presidential candidates.
Manchin, who joined Paul to speak against renewing government surveillance powers, theorized that the Kentuckian likely cleared his approach with his state's senior senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a way that advanced both men's agendas. "I'm sure they worked that out," Manchin said, adding that Paul "got his due yesterday.'"
Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, praised the way Paul handled his marathon protest, which was choreographed for maximum drama with minimum disruption. "I appreciate anytime people recognize reality in terms of what's going to happen and what their actions are actually going to produce,'' he said. "Every senator has the right to do what Senator Paul did."
Senator John McCain, a leading Republican critic of Paul's approach, also didn't seem much bothered by Rand's stand."If it makes him feel good it's fine with me," said McCain.
In one sign of his effectiveness, Paul managed to draw praised from one of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. Like Paul, Cruz has been an outspoken critic of the Patriot Act provisions enacted under former President George W. Bush. And he came to the floor last night in support of his 2016 rival.
"His is a voice that this body needs to listen to," said Cruz. "The senator from Kentucky's voice has altered the debate in this chamber and has helped refocus the United States Congress and the American people on the critical importance of defending our liberty."