Politics

Nancy Pelosi Claims Record for Longest House Floor Speech

And a brief history of the chamber’s ‘filibuster’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appears on a screen on Wednesday from the House floor where she’s voicing support for a DACA-related vote. In the background, Democratic leaders hold a news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:11 p.m. | House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed the record for longest ever House floor speech Wednesday. Democrats clapped when she announced the new record.

Republicans can thank John A. Boehner.

Pelosi held the House floor for eight hours and six minutes to discuss her opposition to a two-year budget deal struck by Senate leaders; she had said she wouldn’t yield until Speaker Paul D. Ryan committed to the consideration of immigration legislation. 

She began speaking at 10:05 a.m. according to CQ video records.

So what’s the precedent for this rather unprecedented floor speech? It’s not the Senate, where a talking filibuster can effectively put off work and progress in the chamber for however long the speaker in the chamber can go.

No, instead there’s House precedent from Boehner nearly nine years ago.

Watch: Boehner’s 2009 Speech Paved Way for Pelosi’s

On June 26, 2009, then-Minority Leader Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was slated to speak on the House floor for one minute in protest of the Democrats’ bill to cut carbon emissions. He spoke nearly uninterrupted for the next 60 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the author of the legislation, Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, broke in to object. “I have the time,” responded Boehner, flipping to page 34 of the 300-page climate bill, and continuing with his page-by-page, point-by-point objection.

When Boehner agreed to let Waxman break in for a parliamentary inquiry, Waxman asked, “I know we have this ‘magic minute’ that gives leaders a lot of extra time to speak ... but I’m just wondering if there’s some limit under the rules, on the time that a leader may take ...”

Holding the speaker’s gavel was Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., in her last day in the House before leaving for a position in the State Department. Despite the chance that her ruling would make her late to her own wedding festivities scheduled for later that night, she repeated the words spoken to her by the House parliamentarian: “It’s the custom of the House to hear the leader’s remarks.”

Following the resulting Republican cheers, Waxman pressed again as to whether there was any outside limit to these remarks. Tauscher affirmed her initial ruling and Boehner continued for another 40 minutes before yielding the floor to more Republican applause.

Republicans that evening forced a ruling that expanded the House minority’s ability to commandeer the floor and delay action.  

An hour later, over the opposition of Boehner and a majority of his Republican colleagues, the House passed the bill.

In 1909, Champ Clark of Missouri held the floor for 5 hours and 15 minutes to speak against a tariff overhaul, according to a Baltimore Sun article from the era. Although Clark held the floor for the duration, he was repeatedly interrupted during his remarks. It’s unclear whether Clark’s was a record speech duration at the time.

House leadership positions of Majority and Minority Leader date around 1899, while the practice of holding one-minute speeches in the House dates to 1937. The rule limiting debate in the House dates to 1841.

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