Rand Paul

Rand Paul's Filibuster: The Latest Example of Why We Need "President's Questions"


Credit: UK Parliament/Flickr

The recent filibustering of John Brennan's nomination to the CIA by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was not only an entertaining and refreshing change to the usual proceedings on Capitol Hill, it also highlighted a deficiency in the American political system, namely that the president does not appear before legislators to take questions. While Rand Paul's filibuster was an impressive physical and mental feat, I can't help but think some time would have been saved if we somehow managed to introduce some parliamentary combativeness to the proceedings on Capitol Hill.

Every Wednesday at noon the British prime minister appears before the House of Commons to take questions from members of parliament. The leader of the opposition is granted a certain number of questions every session, and the speaker of the House of Commons calls on other members of parliament (who indicate they would like to ask a question by standing). The practice is part of British political culture and provides an element of theater to British politics that despite at times seeming childish does require that the prime minister be prepared to publically defend his government's policies in front of hundreds of unsympathetic colleagues.

Quite how something like this would work in the U.S. I am not entirely sure, but I don't think it is that unreasonable to ask that the president (and if he is away the vice president) appear before a joint session of Congress once a week and take questions for a certain amount of time (in the U.K. it is half an hour). Who would get to call upon senators or congressman could be potentially tricky. In the U.K the speaker is independent, not a member of a political party, and it is easy to see why Democrats would be upset if John Boehner (R-Ohio) would get to decide on who gets to ask Obama a question. However, it seems to me it would not be that difficult to implement a rule (or custom) that required that an equal number of questions be asked from members of each party.

One of the benefits that I see of introducing President's Questions (while admitting I am no constitutional scholar) is that it could perhaps be implemented under Article 2 Section 3 of the Constitution, which would allow us to introduce some combative politics to Capitol Hill and allow us to replace, diminish, or get rid of the annual State of the Union address.

It would have been refreshing to see Rand Paul ask Obama if he believes that he has the authority to kill American non-combatants on American soil who pose no imminent threat with a drone. How much more refreshing it would be to see Obama defend his policies live on national television after being fielded questions that have not been approved or seen beforehand.

I suppose one of the main obstacles to a Westminster-style question period being introduced into American politics is that it would be impractical given that the House of Representatives and the Senate are separate. However, I can't see why we couldn't just alternate weeks, with the president appearing before the Senate one week and before the House of Representatives the next.

I think it is a shame that American legislators are not given the opportunity to ask the president direct questions. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who seemed upset by Sen. Paul's filibuster, should perhaps suggest that President's Question Time be introduced. After all, he said he would do so if elected president during the 2008 campaign.  

So, readers, what questions would you like to see posed to the president by your representatives, and what rules should govern President's Questions were it to be introduced?

Below is a video of last week's Prime Minister's Questions:

Click here to see another video that highlights some of the more humorous recent exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions.

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  1. How dare you suggest one question the King!

    1. And by the Grand Dragon of the tea bagger rubbish no less?

  2. “Question Period” is one of the saving graces of a Westminister style parliament.

  3. See also Question Period in the Canadian parliament, which occurs each sitting day.

  4. PM questions is its own good theater. Who knew that “my right honorable friend” actually means “that mendacious fuck from the other party.”

    1. Parliamentary language is very circumscribed, but it does lead to some exercise in wit to get around it.

      “The Right Honorable Gentleman’s facts appear to have come from another reality.”

  5. “Mr. President, have there been awesomer presidents than you?”

    1. Mr. President, your Presidency seems to have all the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?*

      * asked by Rep. Chris Matthews, who managed to get a whole district so drunk that they voted for him.

      1. Well in the question’s defense, his presidency IS like a runaway train.

  6. “Mr. President, if, hypothetically, you ordered the assassination of a minor citizen not accused of a crime, and if, in that hypothetical situation, you refused to divulge any iformation on it in court, how would one, hypothetically, ask you about it without being subject to indefinite detention and rendition?”

  7. One of my favorite phrases in the world: “I refer the right honorable gentleman to the comments I made some moments ago.”

    I found C-Span back in the day when we would drink until the hours where ESPiN showed reruns. Whenever we were able to find “Prime Minister’s Questions”, it would devolve into a drinking game where that phrase required a shot.

  8. “Would the Right Honorable President care to explain why his word, and his word alone, is all that the people require to rain a hellfire missile down on a wedding party of innocent people in a region of the world the Right Honorable President claims to be helping?”

  9. I’m not so sure we need “President’s Questions”, but proportional representation sure would be sweet.

  10. Imagine the “Uhhhhhh”‘s involved if the great O had to do this.

    1. “I am the Great, ummmmmm, and Powerful, uhhhhhhhhh, O! Pay no, uhhhhhh, uhhhhhhhh, attention to that man, ummmmmmmmmmm, behind, uhhhhhhhhhh, the curtain!”

    2. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz would wipe the floor with God Emperor Teleprompter.

  11. “Let me be clear… uh… contrary to what my right honorable friend was said… some are saying…uh… studies show…”

    *awkward pause*

    “Fuck you, thats why!”

    1. “Fuck you, thats why!”

      followed by…


  12. And they should have to do it in Received Pronounciation!

  13. When Obama actually interacted with the press during his first year in office, it would take him like 6 minutes to answer a single question, and he wouldn’t even really answer it.

    Give him motivation to hone his evasive stalling tactics and see what happens.

  14. “Mr. President, do you see yourself as more of an Old Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or New Kirk – and why?

    1. “Well, I see myself as more of an Obi-Wan Spock.”

    2. “In my world, there is no new Kirk.”

      I’d like him a little more.

    3. I’d go for Gul Dukat.

  15. Instead we get “town hall forums” where politicians take carefully vetted questions from dumb people.

  16. Back when I had cable, PM question time was one of my Sunday night rituals. It was always amusing to watch Betty Boothroyd shout out “Order, Order!” after the PM gave an unpopular answer.

    But it really developed into more theater than substance. Given the modern presidency’s talent for avoiding answers, I doubt it would be much more than a sideshow. If it takes 3 letters to a friggin’ CIA nominee to get a response (not even an answer), why would we expect anything from POTUS question time.

    I’d settle for an objective press corps. |But neither is likely to happen.

  17. Mister President, how do you think it will affect your legacy to be the first American President to bankrupt the nation?

  18. I’m guessing:

    1) Obama pleads the Fifth Amendment.

    2) Obama gives extended evasive non-answers lacking in verbs or nouns.

    3) Lies. Filthy, filthy lies.

    4) Every “answer” is just talking points about the prez’s wish list.

    1. “Mr. President, under what provision of the Constitution can you order the assassination via drone of American citizens on American soil without due process, judges, or juries?”

      “I am glad you asked about our underfunded judiciary and military. The devastating sequester cuts to those departments must be reversed …”

  19. If we had this, is there a way we could elect Nigel Farage to the house or senate? If not, could we set up a Nigel Farge School for Questioning The Executive?

  20. Uhm, I don’t mean to sound like a dick, but if the president was reduced to his/her normal constitutionally delegated executive powers, he wouldn’t need to be up there answering questions. He’s not the fucking king with unilateral powers over the country… hell, even as Commander-in-Chief he still can only act with Congressional approval.

    1. How dare you disrespect the office of the Presidency, Leader of the Free World (TM)?

    2. I beg to differ.

      Muammar Gaddafi

  21. We could have a new chamber of commerce of elected journalists responsible for weekly grillings in the House of Bastards (in the Young Ones sense).

    1. *commerce=congress

      The link between fingers and brain have been severely frayed by a dangerous amount of coffee today.

    2. How about a Star Chamber of Commerce?

  22. Meh, do we really wanna listen to President field questions. It would be more nauseating than anything else. We’d probably get insightful retorts like “What difference at this point does it make anyway?”

    1. More likely it would be a half-hour of “Uhh, err, uhh, let me be perfectly clear, uhh, err, uhh, well…”

  23. It’s worth noting that the King never had to go through this back when the British monarchy had some bite. And essentially the president has become our elected monarch (or emperor, whichever you prefer).

  24. Since we don’t have an non-partisan Speaker to select the questioners, maybe they could be chosen randomly. Give every Congressman a number, and then pick the numbers like they do in bingo.

    1. Or maybe make a game show out of it. Survivor-style, or something like that. Congressional approval ratings would skyrocket.

  25. If nothing else it would reveal how miserably bad most American politicians are as debaters. It’s always funny to me to watch a Congressional hearing on C-Span and hear some Congresscritter who is always praised for his sharp wit and debating skills mumbling like a drunken cow.

  26. Sounds liek a pretty cool plan to me man, I liek it.


  27. Thomas Jefferson would have failed at President Questions. Probably wouldn’t have been President if he had to stand up and speak more than he did.

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