The protest was a far cry from his past attempts at blocking the legislative process, which lasted many hours in some cases and won him praise -– and campaign contributions –- from supporters.
During one such effort, in May of this year, he seized the Senate floor for 10.5 hours, railing against the National Security Agency’s spying program. And in March 2013, he spoke for 12 hours and 52 minutes -– the ninth longest filibuster on record -– delaying a final vote on the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan and voicing opposition to the Obama administration’s drone policy.
But in the case of his protest against the budget deal, experts suggested that the term “filibuster” is a misnomer, because the word has now come to indicate when the Senate can't unanimously agree to end debate as opposed to the traditional notion of long speeches.
“It is nothing but a publicity stunt and fundraising gimmick,” said Thomas Mann, a Congressional scholar and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Every day, in the business of the Senate, entails what’s known informally as ‘filibusters.’ That is, you can only act through unanimous consent or getting the agreement of members to cut off debate and proceed to the underlying business.”
Joshua C. Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, said that “as long as you’re objecting to unanimous consent you are preventing the Senate” from ending debate – the definition of a filibuster.
“The sad state of affairs is, this is actually what filibusters are nowadays more than anything else,” Huder added. “It doesn’t have the grandiose optics to it. It’s not hearkening back to Daniel Webster or Sen. Calhoun, or Henry Clay or any of these guys where you use the filibuster as an extension of unlimited debate.”
But Paul’s camp, as it has with his past marathon speeches, urged supporters to donate money to encourage him as he “filibustered.”
Paul’s camp maintains that his threat to filibuster, issued Tuesday before the Republican debate in Colorado, forced Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to extend debate on the bill until 1 a.m. on Friday morning -– the earliest time at which the Senate could vote to end debate.
Paul's team said that the threat forced the Senate leadership to end the filibuster -- before it technically started -- through a procedural mechanism called cloture, a spokeswoman for Paul’s Senate office said Thursday. Cloture adds up to another 30 hours for the Senate to consider a pending matter.
Mann also pointed out that Paul would almost certainly have not been the only Senate Republican who would have sought to force as much debate on the Senate floor as possible.
The budget eventually passed, 65-34, around 3 a.m. Friday. Paul spoke for another hour around 1 a.m., after the Senate had voted to cut off debate.
A rep for McConnell declined comment for this story.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said that Rand Paul’s actions did not constitute a filibuster.