Congressmen Ami Bera, David Cicilline, Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger talk problem solving.
Filibusters can become very theatrical at times. It takes a lot of emotion for someone to be willing to stand on the floor and speak for hours at a time without any kind of break. On occasion, they have even gotten violent. While we at No Labels would prefer the parties to work together, rather than actively antagonize each other as happened in a few of these examples, we thought it would be fun to review some of the most memorable filibusters of all time.
1. Rhode Island Senate
In tiny Rhode Island in 1923, the minority Democrats wanted to force the Republicans to hold a constitutional convention. Thus began a very long filibuster against all major legislation. Although the campaign began in January, it went on for months, reaching its peak in June of 1924. According to Gregory Koger (via Karl Kurtz),
…The Rhode Island Senate stayed in continuous session for 22 hours until the Republican majority simply got up and left. Three days later they returned for a 42-hour day-and-night session which began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Lt. Gov. Felix] Toupin [who was aiding the Democrats by refusing to recognize any motions by the majority except to hold a constitutional convention] to gas him out of the presiding officer’s chair.
Some Republicans in the end wound up fleeing for Massachusetts because they did not feel safe, and a New York Times article from the era indicates that Toupin decided to have someone check to make sure that his food was safe for consumption. Yikes!
2. Strom Thurmond
The title of longest one-man congressional filibuster in history goes to Strom Thurmond’s 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In order to pull it off, Thurmond dehydrated himself in a steam room prior so that when he drank water from a water bottle as he was talking, he could put off going to the bathroom longer.
3. Huey Long
In 1935, Huey Long did a 15 hour and 30 minute long filibuster trying to get Congress to amend a law to require senior employees of the National Recovery Administration (the entire administration was later struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional) to be confirmed by the Senate. Over the course of the filibuster, he asked the press in the room for ideas on what to talk about. Eventually, he simply decided to recite recipes.
4. Robert LaFollette
To protest a banking bill, Robert LaFollette held an 18-hour filibuster in 1908. At one point in his speech, an aide came to give him a mixture of milk and eggs for energy. He took a sip but promptly spit it out, claiming that it was drugged. It was not, in fact, drugged, but simply spoilt from the summer sun. Judging from the Rhode Island case, though, he may have had decent reason to worry.
5. Bernie Sanders
The so-called “filibernie” in 2010 over the extension of the Bush tax cuts, at a bit over 8 ½ hours, was nowhere near the longest, but it was the closest many young people have gotten to seeing a talking filibuster in action. However, technically it wasn’t a “true” filibuster because it wasn’t holding up a vote – the bill was scheduled to be taken up a few days later.
Whether you agree with these senators’ opinions or not, one thing is clear. Each of them felt very strongly about a particular issue, and they stood up on the Senate floor to fight for it, for hours at a time. The degree of effort that many of them put into their causes gives lie to the so-called “filibusters” we get today. If senators feel strongly about an issue, they should be willing to stand up on the floor and expend effort to fight for it.