There is no such thing as a filibuster in the House of Representatives.
But there is a “magic minute."
The “magic minute” isn’t a rule. It’s a special privilege spanning longer than 60 seconds afforded to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and other top leaders to speak on the floor for as long as they wish.
A key difference between the House and Senate is the Senate features unlimited debate. That leads to actual filibusters which impair legislative action. Floor time in the House is controlled. It must be. After all, you’re dealing with 435 members compared to 100 in the Senate. So time is at a premium.
The House restricts debate on most bills to an hour. Leaders allocate more time for major bills. Time is often doled out in one-minute increments. So-called “special orders” speeches at the end of the day run longer, but aren’t focused around actual legislative debate.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seized on the “magic minute” phenomenon at 10:04 a.m. ET Wednesday to rally support for a DACA agreement.
“I am going to go on as long as my leadership minute allows,” said Pelosi.
Pelosi’s “magic minute” wrinkled time and bent physics. It emerged as the super-duper, magnificent, unicorn, voodoo minute. It ballooned to a staggering eight hours and seven minutes.
Pelosi held the floor all eight hours wearing black, stiletto heels. No sitting. Just talking. When Pelosi wrapped, she established a new record for the longest floor speech in House history. Pelosi bested House Speaker Champ Clark, D-MO, who set the old benchmark in 1909, two years before clasping the Speaker’s gavel. Clark spoke for five hours and 15 minutes.
But Clark was not shod in stilettos when he set his record.
Pelosi clutched a Kleenex for much of her speech. The heels were the least of her worries. Allergies proved to be an adversary.
“I thought I might be hungry. I thought I might be thirsty,” said Pelosi around at 5:34 p.m. “But I never thought I would get sniffles from the rug.”
It’s not unusual for House leaders to take advantage of the magic minute dispensation. Then-House Minority Leader and later Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held forth for more than an hour in June, 2009 as the House prepared to vote on a climate bill known as “cap and trade.” Boehner’s oratory energized Republicans and infuriated Democrats. Former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., even asked the House’s presiding officer, then-Rep. Ellen Tauscher D-Calif, why the Ohio Republican was permitted such protracted oration.
The stunt became known as the “Fili-Boehner.”
Pelosi - then serving as House Speaker - was poised to deliver her own closing argument on cap and trade to rebut Boehner. But Pelosi knew brevity was the soul of wit following Boehner.
“Just remember these four words of what this legislation means: Jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs. Let’s vote for jobs!”
And with that, Pelosi concluded.
Word of a budget deal leaked around the Capitol just as Pelosi began her speech Wednesday.
Around 10:30 a.m., the California Democrat sent out a statement, saluting the bipartisan budget pact forged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to lift spending caps for the Pentagon and non-defense spending.
“The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities,” declared Pelosi.
But there was a caveat. Pelosi noted the plan was bereft of a DACA accord.
“Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support.”
And so Pelosi made her case for Ryan to consider a DACA plan.
Pelosi’s marathon speech may have focused on DACA. But the speech was laced with internal leadership politics on both sides of the aisle.
Ryan would like to address DACA. But that could create turmoil for Ryan among conservatives who characterize a DACA fix as “amnesty.”
Younger House Democrats have pined for a leadership change. They believe time passed by Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-MD. They want to infuse the party with a younger generation of leaders. Pelosi turns 78 in March. Hoyer is currently 78. But Pelosi’s prolonged presentation put to rest any question about her fortitude and endurance.
“I don’t think anyone has ever questioned Leader Pelosi’s tenacity,” said 44-year-old Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who challenged Pelosi to be the top House Democrat in late 2016. Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., has also pushed for younger blood.
“My issue with the leadership team has nothing to do with stamina,” said Rice.
Pelosi solidified her position among liberals in the House by advocating for DACA.
Just before 4 p.m., former Vice President Biden arrived to speak to House Democrats. Many thought Pelosi may wrap then.
“I have no intention of yielding back,” said Pelosi.
A few minutes later, Pelosi turned to her colleagues sitting behind her in solidarity.
“If you want to see Biden, you can,” said Pelosi.
“We want to see you!” replied Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
Still, some viewed Pelosi’s gambit as window dressing for DACA. After all, Pelosi was purportedly part of the talks with other top House and Senate leaders.
“I don't understand if you have four leaders agree to a bill why do you get to negotiate if you're not going to vote for the bill?” asked House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
McCarthy’s view of the speech.
“I think it’s going to make her Wikipedia page. It’s her biggest accomplishment this year,” said McCarthy.
When she finished, Pelosi told reporters Schumer “got what he wanted” on the budget deal. But she was still pushing – publicly at least – for DACA.
Would Democrats support the plan?
“I have no idea where members are,” Pelosi replied.
If the bill is to pass to avoid a shutdown, scores of House Democrats must vote yes to fill the void created by Republican defectors. Some Democrats interpreted Pelosi’s speech as a lengthy campaign against the bill. That could jeopardize the legislation. That’s why some Democrats are nervous about another shutdown over DACA.
When she came off the floor, Pelosi told a group of reporters the time flew by.
“When you’re out there talking, it seems shorter. When you’re listening, it seems longer,” said Pelosi.
“Yeah,” hollered one reporter who viewed Pelosi’s speech. “We know.”