I am not American and have only a sketchy knowledge of Senate procedure. What exactly was Rand Paul trying to achieve with this marathon speech? Why did he stop when he did, rather than go on past midnight and make it a filibuster?

Added later in response to DVK's comment: What seems strange to me is that, having made it to just 15 minutes before midnight (according to this), he didn't go on for just a quarter of an hour more, which would have made it an official filibuster and delayed Senate business for the next day. My experience of staying up all night to do something is that however exhausted one is, the imminent achievement of a clear goal will provide a second wind. It looks to me as if Senator Paul chose to stop before midnight, but I don't understand why he made that choice.

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    Why did he stop - have you personally ever tried to talk for 10 hours non-stop? Despite seeming to be the easiest thing possible for a politician, it's physically taxing :)
    – user4012
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 23:25
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    You might find this article an interesting read, too.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


Doing a marathon speech shows your resolve on the subject. Not keeping the Senate from doing their work means you're not going to get labelled an obstructionist and part of the problem why things don't get done. Start holding up business and no doubt there will be some other bit of popular legislation on the calendar and you will get crucified for the delay. And that will become the story they go after you with, not what you were filibustering but what got delayed. "Senator Paul delayed legislation to give average American families a tax break. Tell Senator Paul you want to keep your money, and ask him why he hates American families." Sure the filibuster had nothing to do with that, but its what isn't getting done while he talks.

Or just actually obstructing passage of a bill that supposedly "Keeps America Safe!!" (Yeah right, but still - that's how the opposition will frame it.)

Exhaustion had nothing to do with it. He made his point, but not in a way that could blow back in the campaign. He didn't hold up business, democracy "worked" by letting the Senate vote, and he scored the right points with the right people.

In other words - politics as usual.

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    While both answers were useful, this one specifically gave a very probable explanation in terms of political strategy of what I found most puzzling, namely why Senator Paul stopped when he did (after having already demonstrated that he had the necessary stamina to keep talking for hours). Commented May 22, 2015 at 16:03

Rand Paul is currently campaigning to be president and fighting the Patriot Act is one of his campaign promises. In giving this speech he showed his resolve to keep fighting against things he believes are wrong. As for why he stopped when he did physical exhaustion was likely a large part of the reason. Also there wasn't any real chance that his speech was going to change anything, despite public support for the Patriot Act being extremely low most of congress still supports renewing the bill. It still was technically a filibuster, just not a successful one, and he accomplished his goals of getting the publicity and the ability to later shame his opponents on being anti-freedom.


No one knows for sure, but it's almost certainly political grandstanding as Ryathal discussed.

This article explores some of the possibilities.

First of all, it wasn't technically a filibuster of the Patriot Act, because that bill wasn't on the floor. The US Senate has rules which allow a senator to continue speaking as long as they want, about any subject they want, until they physically can't any more or 3/5 of the Senators vote to stop them (cloture). Additionally, a bill can't be voted on until debate on it is over, which means that as long as there is at least one Senator willing to filibuster, then the bill can't be voted on. There's other ways to avoid it, but that's the general scenario. So while it was a filibuster (nothing else could get voted on), it wasn't really a filibuster of the Patriot Act.

So, what did this filibuster gain him, since it didn't prevent the bill from coming to a vote?

If [Sen. Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell was going to push for a quick vote on his bill for a "clean" reauthorization of the Patriot Act, then Paul gummed up the works. But that probably wouldn't have happened anyway, since the House is departing for the holiday weekend at 3:00pm today.

Still, the large and unexpected delay caused by Paul and his supporters puts the Senate in a major time crunch, which some observers have argued will have political effects.

The delay may have put the Senate into a situation in which it can't consider any bill except for the House-passed USA Freedom Act, which limits bulk surveillance, between now and Saturday due to complex procedural rules explained [here].

One theory, based on the timing (it ended before midnight) and the fact there wasn't even an attempt to bust it by invoking cloture goes:

It’s quite possible that [Paul and McConnell] made an agreement to get themselves out of holes they had created for themselves... By appearing to be left with no choice but USAF, McConnell could then whip it, and ensure it passes, to be quickly sent to Obama for signature. If McConnell really whipped it, Paul could even cast a symbolic vote against it.

In other words, it's possible that it was a way to force the bill through while letting Paul still go on the record as opposing it. This is just a theory, but it would explain the oddity of it.

That then feeds back into the "political grandstanding". Regardless of whether there was any ulterior motive, by publicly filibustering about the bill, he shows his opposition to it, thereby encouraging his supporters.

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    What's that old line generally attributed to Bismark? "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making." And what is done on the floor in front of cameras is generally just theater for the voters. The real dealing are never anywhere that public! Commented May 22, 2015 at 19:53
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    @MichaelBroughton - I miss the days where things that actually mattered happened on the floor. You'd never see people jumping across the desks or whetting a bowie knife these days, let alone the unexpected decision that led to that uproar.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 23:58

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