When it comes to congressional bloviating, the place to be is the U.S. Senate, with its hallowed (if recently restricted) tradition of “filibusters,” long speeches exploiting Senate rules to block or delay votes, usually to thwart the will of the majority party. The House, in contrast, is the efficient, ruthlessly run congressional chamber where everything operates according to a strict schedule that the minority has little power to influence.
But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi found a loophole in the House rules whereby party leaders — and party leaders only — when recognized can speak for as long as they want. As congressional negotiators finalized a stopgap spending deal that omitted any protections for Dreamers, Pelosi registered her strong but futile opposition. But instead of quietly simmering over this impending legislative defeat, the 77-year old Pelosi then took the floor and has as of this writing held it for more than six hours, reading from the personal testimonies of vulnerable Dreamers forwarded to her by fellow Democratic members. It’s unclear how much longer she will talk (Strom Thurmond’s Senate filibuster record of 24 hours and 18 minutes is probably not in any danger), and the House historian is still looking into parallel House speeches that may have exceeded Pelosi’s.
History aside, this “DACA-buster” (as some are already labeling this speech) is probably a shrewd if difficult move for Pelosi. She and her party are dealing with a lot of anger from immigrants’ advocates for not forcing a vote on some sort of DACA extension even if it meant shutting down the federal government. There’s not much she can do to stop the spending-bill train coming down the track from the Senate. So she’s showing her and her caucus’s commitment to the cause the only way she can — by making as much noise as possible for as long as possible. If and when DACA protections are restored, Pelosi’s talkathon may be remembered as a landmark. And if not, all she’s lost is some time and perhaps (for an evening) her voice.