WASHINGTON — Almost 13 hours after declaring, ‘‘I will speak until I can no longer speak,’’ Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky finally relented early Thursday and ended his self-described filibuster blocking confirmation of President Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA.
Paul, a Tea Party favorite and a Republican critic of Obama’s drone policy, began speaking just before noon by demanding the president or Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement assuring that the unmanned weapons would not be used in the United States to kill terrorism suspects who are US citizens.
While acknowledging he cannot stop John Brennan from being confirmed, Paul said the nomination was the right vehicle for a debate over what the White House believes are the limits of the government’s ability to conduct lethal operations against suspected terrorists.
Paul, 50, received intermittent support early on from several other conservative senators, plus Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Paul spoke almost continuously for five hours before Majority Leader Harry Reid tried but failed to move to a vote on Brennan.
Paul snacked on candy at the dinner hour while continuing to speak. At one point, Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican who walks haltingly because of a stroke, delivered a canister of hot tea and an apple to Paul’s desk, but a doorkeeper removed them. Representative Louie Gohmert, a conservative from Texas, stood off to the side of the floor in a show of support. Other well-wishers with privileges to be on the floor shook his hand when he temporarily turned the speaking over to his colleagues.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, read Twitter messages from people eager to ‘‘Stand With Rand.’’ And as the night went on, Cruz spoke for longer periods as Paul leaned against a desk across the floor. Cruz, an insurgent Republican with strong Tea Party backing, read passages from Shakespeare’s ‘‘Henry V’’ and lines from the 1970 movie ‘‘Patton,’’ starring George C. Scott.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Paul read from notebooks filled with articles about the expanded use of the unmanned weapons, which have become the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s campaign against Al Qaeda suspects. Senate rules say a senator has to remain on the floor to continue to hold it, even though he can yield to another senator for a question.
‘‘No president has the right to say he is judge, jury, and executioner,’’ Paul said.
Not all Republicans were so enthusiastic about Paul’s performance. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the prospect of drones being used to kill people in the United States was ‘‘ridiculous’’ and called the debate ‘‘paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified.’’
Later in the evening Paul, who is the son of former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, offered to allow a vote on Brennan if the Senate would vote on his resolution stating that the use of the unmanned, armed aircraft on US soil against American citizens violates the Constitution. Democrats rejected the offer.
Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said earlier Wednesday he planned to file a motion to bring debate over Brennan’s nomination to an end as soon as possible. Reid had pushed for a confirmation vote Wednesday.
Holder told Paul in a March 4 letter that the federal government has not conducted lethal drone operations on US soil and has no intention of doing so. But Holder also wrote that he supposed it was possible under an ‘‘extraordinary circumstance’’ that the president would have no choice but to authorize the military to use lethal force inside US borders.