Who did the longest filibuster in US history? Not Kevin McCarthy

Bruno Cooke November 19, 2021
Who did the longest filibuster in US history? Not Kevin McCarthy
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Kevin McCarthy gave what CNN have called the “longest House floor speech in history”, delaying the vote for Biden’s Build Back Better bill – which has since passed – surprising those who remember (or remember reading about) Strom Thurmond’s infamous filibuster of 1957. What is the record holder for longest filibuster in US history, and did McCarthy beat the record for longest congress speech?

How long did Kevin McCarthy’s speech last?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, stalled floor action in Congress yesterday with a “record-breaking” speech. His unofficial filibuster lasted eight hours and 32 minutes.

He started his speech at 8:38pm ET and continued until 5:10am the following day – this morning, Friday morning. In total, it lasted eight hours and 32 minutes.

During the course of his speech, McCarthy “touched on several issues”, among them inflation, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and how he opened a deli in his youth.

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He also talked about one day owning a Tesla, and wanting to have been at Tiannenmen Square in during the massacre of 1989

Was McCarthy’s ‘filibuster’ the longest in US Congress history?

McCarthy beat the record previously held by former House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for the longest continuous House floor speech.

In February of 2018, Pelosi spoke for eight hours and seven minutes – 25 minutes less time than McCarthy’s marathon monologue. Her chosen topic was “Dreamers” – people who come to the US illegally as children.

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She’d taken the record from Missouri congressman Champ Clark, who spoke for just over five hours in 1909.

But McCarthy’s speech – and Pelosi’s before it – wasn’t technically a “filibuster”, because filibusters, by their definition, are a custom reserved for the Senate. Filibusters were outlawed in the US House of Representatives in 1842. Since then, only House Leaders have been able to “fake filibuster” – others must limit the duration of their speeches.

How are the rules different in the Senate?

In the US Senate, filibuster rules are different. 

Although the filibuster has undergone various changes over the course of the last 215 years (it was accidentally introduced in 1806), it is still a powerful political weapon. 

On May 28, 2021, Senate Republicans blocked a bill intended to launch an independent commission to investigate the events of January 6, with a 54 to 35 vote using the filibuster.

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Who is the record holder for single longest filibuster in US political history? Well, it lasted 24 hours and 18 minutes, and was the work of Strom Thurmond. Its intention was to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

For those who wish to relive it, find its transcript here.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.