Senator Rand Paul’s nearly 13-hour talking filibuster reveals a telling wrinkle about the so-called symbiotic relationship with fellow Kentuckian and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
According to the National Journal, a week and a half before the speech Paul approached McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton—who is also Paul’s nephew—about blocking the nomination of CIA director John Brennan.
The Republican leader had considered such a move beforehand, according to sources. But McConnell was glad to help “win over” other GOP senators to the idea on Paul’s behalf in another attempt to show their solidarity.
“There were multiple discussions at senior staff levels about Senator Paul’s plans to hold the Brennan nomination, and Sen. McConnell had agreed to hold, at the least, Mr. Brennan’s confirmation to a 60 vote threshold,” says Benton.
It was a masterful coordination that put the Obama administration’s drone policy in the national spotlight, and put Senate Democrats on their heels.
But what Team Mitch was apparently unaware of was Paul’s intention to actually perform a “talking” filibuster rather a “cloture.” The reaction amongst McConnell surrogates has been a mix of admiration (“he’s savvy”) and apprehension (“it was shrewd”).
“Of course Sen. Paul did not tell our team about his plans for a talking filibuster,” Benton told WFPL. “He could not. Rand’s plan relied on total surprise or else (Senate Democratic Leader) Harry Reid would never have allowed him to take control of the floor.”
Much has been written about the level of cooperation between Paul and McConnell as tension between their respective bases in the GOP remains.
Paul is a relatively new rising star and heir to a liberty movement that has been re-incarnated under the Tea Party mantle in recent years. McConnell is a 30-year “creature of Washington” who over time has adapted to the changing political winds and mastered the levers of the Senate.
The two are a contrast, but have coordinated when necessary.
Paul and McConnell recently co-sponsored legislation to legalize industrial hemp as a potential economic boon for the state. McConnell has often given Paul cover for his issues to make it to the Senate floor, and in return Paul has endorsed McConnell for re-election while dismissing talk of a primary opponent from the Tea Party.
Despite the working partnership and personal connection (see: Benton hire), little has helped McConnell quiet Paul’s vocal base in the early stages of his re-election bid.
For instance, Kentucky Tea Party activist David Adams says the Paul-McConnell partnership is often exaggerated by the latter, and a primary challenge to McConnell is still forthcoming.
“I highly doubt that Mitch McConnell has the kind of coordination with Rand Paul that he wants people to believe. And I think in a Republican primary for McConnell’s seat it will be increasingly, readily apparent to people that Mitch McConnell is not the tea partier that he wants to project himself as being,” he says.
Grassroots Tea Party activists used the marathon filibuster to praise Paul and chastise McConnell via social networking. It is unclear if McConnell coming to the Senate floor in the wee hours was a result of that pressure or previous coordination, but once the GOP leader did few Tea Party cheers followed.
“Senator McConnell’s primary motivation for going to the floor was deeply personal,” says Benton. “Rand’s stand for the Fifth Amendment reminded him of his own stands for the First Amendment and he was compelled to lend support to his good friend.”
Another caveat is that Paul is apparently free to associate with McConnell and utilize his senior senator’s institutional knowledge and insider status without consequence. When reports of Paul seeking McConnell’s counsel and tacit approval surface it generates little backlash from the junior senator’s liberty-minded base.
“Rand has a lot of leeway with regard to his public relationship with Sen. McConnell,” says Adams. “I don’t think it puts Rand in any kind of jeopardy at all. McConnell is the one hanging by his fingernails.”
If the relationship is symbiotic as Beltway reports call it, Paul is becoming the larger beneficiary of the two as McConnell faces re-election.