Rand Paul’s old-school filibuster


Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on the floor of the Senate Wednesday. (AP/AP)
Al Kamen
Columnist March 6, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched an old-fashioned filibuster on Wednesday — though after a while he handed off to Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for some bipartisan help.

But Paul’s filibuster, which finished just shy of 13 hours, didn’t come close to the legendary filibusters — starting with Jimmy Stewar t in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” who was depicted as having spoken nearly 24 hours, though the 1939 movie only ran a bit more than two hours.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The record filibuster goes, of course, to South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond in opposing the 1957 civil rights bill. Thurmond, then a Democrat, held the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes.

But there were some others, according to the Associated Press and the Senate Web site, who came close to his record or at least rambled on endlessly.

Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) nearly matched Thurmond, speaking for 23 hours and 30 minutes as he tried to block a military spending bill in 1986. He also held forth for 15 hours and 14 minutes against a tax bill in 1992.

Wayne Morse (I-Ore.), held the floor for 22 hours and 26 minutes as he tried to block an oil bill in 1953.

Robert M. La Follette Sr. (R-Wis.), spoke for 18 hours and 23 minutes when he was trying to block a currency bill in 1908.

William Proxmire (D-Wis.) held the floor for 16 hours and 12 minutes as he tried to block an increase in the debt ceiling in 1981. (Ah, the debt ceiling.)

Huey Long (D-La.), back in the ’30s, filibustered bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor. Long, who entertained spectators by reciting Shakespeare and reading recipes for fried oysters and “pot likker” — the liquid left behind after greens are boiled — filibustered for 15 hours and 30 minutes in 1935, to require Senate confirmation for some New Deal employees.

And the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) endured for 14 hours and 13 minutes in opposition to the civil rights bill.

It could be it’s harder to go that long these days. In the old days, lawmakers might have read from the telephone book, but we don’t have them so much these days. Maybe they could read their Twitter feeds?

Penny for a coinage?

White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to make a contribution to the Washington lexicon this week when he told reporters that President Obama would be open to a “petite bargain” on sequestration.

Perhaps inspired by the invention of the trendy term “snowquester,” which seemed to be on everyone’s lips, Carney came up with the turn of phrase, a riff on the “grand bargain” that the president famously once hoped for.

But Shakespeare he ain’t.

Almost no one picked up on the phrase, it seems. On Capitol Hill, it was barely uttered. And it makes for a crummy hashtag, so #petitebargain generated only a few tweets, mostly among Washington reporters mocking the phrase.

In fact, Carney’s more like the character in “Mean Girls” who tries to popularize the word “fetch” as a synonym for “awesome.”

She is chided: “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen!”

The Carry Nation Award

Leave it to a representative of the United States to play the role of the party pooper at the United Nations, where he wants to make sure there’s no boozing going on during high-stakes budget negotiations.

Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform, prudishly proposed this week that “negotiation rooms should in [the] future be an inebriation-free zone.” But teetotaling hasn’t seemed to do much for our very own gridlocked Congress.

The apparently sober negotiations on Capitol Hill have led to agreement on exactly nothing, with the sequester stalemate as the best (worst?) example. And so we wonder if the United States should learn a little something from the United Nations about how to get things done with a little spirit (or, better yet, spirits).

Colum Lynch reports for Foreign Policy that the rooms where the marathon U.N. budget negotiations took place last December were stocked with all manner of libations. Some say everyone was indulging, while others contend that the principals were sober, while the booze was just there to entertain those who had to wait around.

Either way . . .

“The drinking, in some cases, is an integral part of the negotiations — a social lubricant offered up to soften an adversary’s negotiating position,” Lynch reports.

Just something for lawmakers pondering the sequester — and for President Obama, who’s hosting Republicans for dinner Wednesday — to think about.

Might as well give it a shot — or three.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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