Filibustering can highlight an important issue or delay the vote on a topic, obstructing abill from moving forward, andSenate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York is threatening a filibuster to thwart the confirmation of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Just thethreat of a filibuster — a grown-up word for "stalling" —can bring the Senate to a screeching halt, so what happens when a senator has to actually go through with it?
Just do it
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To begin a filibuster, a senator needs to go to the Senate floor and ask the presiding officer to recognize him or her. The senator then starts talking … and talking … and talking. The filibuster can be announced during the speech, but if a senator starts talking long enough, or reading the phone book, the other senators will realize, "Hey, something's going on here."
The filibustering politiciancan walk around, but the senator must remain on his or her feet. Leaning against a desk or chair isn't permitted, and to date, no wheelchair-boundpolitician has ever attempted a filibuster.
There's no eating during a filibuster, but the speaker can have water, milk or candyfrom the"candy desk." The candy is typically at the desk of a Pennsylvania senator, as the state is home to large candy manufacturers such as Hershey's, theBoston Globe reported.
In1908,Wisconsin Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Folletteasked his page to grab him a turkey sandwich and a glass of milk fortified with eggs, permissibleduring that era's rules. With temperatures soaring into the 90s and perhaps a kitchen staff that wasn't happy at having to fix a meal in the middle of the night, the Senate's website surmises, the eggs were past their prime.
After one not-quite-right sip and a gulp, La Follettestarted having tummy troubles. Soldiering though six more hours, sweating and ill, he was forced to end the filibuster at 7 a.m.
"A subsequent analysis revealed that the mixture contained enough toxic bacteria to kill anyone consuming the entire glass," according to Senate history.
Since then, rules have changed and only water, candy and (beginning in 1966) milk are permitted on the floor.
No bathroom breaks
Despite meager intake, nature will surely call —a call that will have to be unanswered if the senator wants the filibuster to continue.
Strom Thurmond, the senator with thelongest filibusterand who has the distinction of doing so to block the 1957 Civil Rights Act, was able to sneak in a potty break whena fellow senator asked him to temporarily yield the floor for an insertion in the Congressional Record,Mother Jones reported.
Thurmond also took steam baths to dehydrate himself before the day of the filibuster and had an aide sneak a bucket into a cloakroom so the senator from South Carolina could ease his bladder's burden while keeping one foot on the Senate floor.
In 2013, Sen.Wendy Davis from Texasused running shoes, a back brace and a urinary catheter during an 11-hour filibuster dealing with a bill banning abortion past 20 weeks,according to The Washington Times.
How to sneak a break
A senator might not be able to pee, but he or she can give the ol' jowls a rest by asking a friendly senator to ask a question. There are no length or time limits on questions, so a question can be hours long. The only catch is the filibustering senator cannot leave the floor.
The speech doesn't have to be interesting
During a filibuster, pretty much any topic is fair game, but spectators are unlikely to seethe passion shown by actor Jimmy Stewart in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
From reading the phone book to analyzing the Constitution, a senator can be as boring as he or she pleases.
In 2013, in a 21-hour speechSen. Harry Reid called "not a filibuster," Sen. Ted Cruz performed some governmental theater showing his opposition to theAffordable Care Act by talking about "Star Wars," Ashton Kutcher and claiming his father invented green eggs and ham.
He then read bedtime stories to his children, including the Dr. Seuss book, "Green Eggs and Ham."
Huey Pierce Long served in the Senate until his assassination in 1935. A few months earlier, the "fiery Louisiana senator began what would become his longest and most dramatic filibuster" all to keep his enemies in his home state from getting lucrative NRA jobs,according to Senate history.
After going through the Constitution, Long started taking requests from reporters in the press gallery andprovided his recipes for fried oysters and potlikker before succumbing to nature's call. Long even called upon the Bard, William Shakespeare, for material.
Just end it already
A filibuster can end a few ways.
If the majority leader can get 60 votes to stop a filibuster, the marathon speech ends, but that process can take up to three days.
An accommodation is won when the senator stops speaking. The rules prohibiting sitting, eating and using the loo often play a role in this finale.
Even if a filibuster is a bust, a successful filibuster will often raise awareness for a topic about which the senator, and his or her constituents, care deeply.
Who do we have to thank?
The first filibuster took place in 1837 by supporters of President Andrew Jackson. Jackson became theonly president in history to be censuredby the Senate afterhe withdrew federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. Obviously, the filibuster couldn't run out the clock and Jackson was censured.