The filibuster is a method of prolonging debate, discussion or votes being made on a proposal or legislature. It delays the passage of bills. Filibuster comes from the French word “filibustier” which translates as “pillaging pirate.” It usually entails a lengthy speech supporting the proposal or explaining why it shouldn’t pass. Usually filibusters remain on topic, but for some members of Congress, it can be an artform taking other members of Congress on a wild ride from grandma’s recipes to children’s literature. Here are some of the most insane filibuster facts and topics in history.
And the Record Goes to…
The longest filibuster was 24 hours, 18 minutes. It was performed by Senator Strom Thurmond against the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. He prepared for his filibuster by taking steam baths to dehydrate himself so he wouldn’t need the bathroom. In the end he only used the bathroom twice during his day long filibuster. Most famously, he went to the bathroom in a bucket in the coatroom where he could still have one foot on the senate floor.
Dramatic Reading of Books and Plays
Alfonse D’Amato filibustered for 23 hours, 30 minutes in 1986 coming close to the record set by Thurmond. As much as he tried to remain on topic, eventually he turned to the District of Columbia’s telephone book to carry out his filibuster. Ted Cruz, most recently in 2013, gave a 21-hour criticism of the Affordable Health Care Act including a reading of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Senator Huey P. Long holds the record for strangest filibuster in 1935. It included everything from Shakespeare, family oyster recipes and recited lines from the Constitution. He was only able to fill 15 hours, 30 minutes with all that content.
Fuel for the Fight
Senators are not allowed to leave the floor during a filibuster. They are not supposed to eat, drink, use the bathroom or lean on the desk or sit. Throughout history they were only allowed to drink milk and water and eat hard candy during their filibuster. Anything else and it would mark the end of their time on the floor. More recently, rules were made to be broken and a senator had Red Bull, Doritos, Powerade, Mountain Dew, and hot dogs delivered to him at the podium. A meal fit for a winner if there was ever one.
Filibusters are a hot topic because they are inevitably halting the passing of bills which is an obstruction of progress either for or against a topic. Whether or not they should be allowed, they are interesting to see what a senator will resort to in order to support or criticize a proposal.