Kentucky Republican Rand Paul took to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday and kept talking for hours in an attempt to block the confirmation of President Barack Obama's counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, as director of the CIA.
Paul began shortly before noon, and talked for more than three hours in an old-fashioned filibuster - in which a senator speaks until he can continue no longer - to prevent a vote on Brennan.
Paul, best known for his somewhat maverick libertarian tendencies, was protesting against a U.S. policy of using unmanned drone aircraft in foreign conflicts, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes against citizens on American soil.
"I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court," Paul said.
Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Texas' Ted Cruz and Kansas' Jerry Moran, all Republicans, took the floor to give Paul a break. So did Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has expressed strong doubts about the drone program, but voted for Brennan in the Senate Intelligence committee.
The senators who spoke - the Republicans and the Democrat - represent the right- and left-wings of their respective parties.
Cruz noted that Wednesday was the anniversary of the attack on the Alamo in Texas, and said his state was proud of Paul, a native of the state. In a bid to kill time, he read a letter about the Alamo.
Democratic leaders had hoped to hold a final vote by the full Senate to confirm Brennan on Wednesday, despite a snowstorm in the Washington area.
When the vote finally does take place, Brennan is expected to be confirmed to lead the CIA.
MR PAUL GOES TO WASHINGTON
Paul was the first senator to embark on a traditional talking filibuster - of the sort immortalized in the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" - since the Senate voted early this year to make it more difficult to stop votes by using procedural tactics.
The last talking filibuster was by Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, who spoke for more than eight hours against a tax bill in 2010. That speech was turned into a book.
The longest filibuster on record was by the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
It was not known how long Paul would continue talking. He was scheduled for a television appearance on CNN at 7 p.m. EST/midnight GMT.
A leadership aide said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid would seek an agreement with Republicans to hold a vote on Wednesday for "cloture," a procedure under which a 60 vote Senate majority would put a halt to any further debate on Brennan's nomination.
That would allow the Senate to proceed to a final floor vote, in which only a simple majority of Senators would need to vote to confirm Brennan.
On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted by an overwhelming 12-3 majority to approve Brennan's nomination and send it to the full Senate for a final vote.
Some Republican critics of President Barack Obama's administration had threatened to try to delay the nomination until the White House discloses more information about its response to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 last year.
A congressional aide said 94 Senators were present on Wednesday to vote on a judicial nomination, and therefore a vote on Brennan's nomination later in the day was not out of the question.
The Intelligence Committee put off a vote on Brennan last week because of squabbling among both Democratic and Republican committee members and the White House over congressional access to sensitive documents related to the Benghazi incident and the use of drones to attack suspected militants.