The ongoing struggle by the Republican Party to defund and eventually repeal Barack Obama’s healthcare law took a curious turn this week. In the wake of the Senate beginning to debate the bill, Texas senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, spoke on the floor for over 21 hours against the bill. The speech was not a filibuster and did not do anything to stop the introduction or discussion of the bill in any way. However, it did put Ted Cruz’s speech at the fourth longest in the history of the United States Senate. With Cruz taking such a place in the annals of American history, let’s look at the company he is going to join.
The other four places in the top five longest Senate speeches have all been filibusters, unlike Cruz’s. The speech that sat at fourth place until yesterday and is now bumped back to fifth was made by Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette Sr. in 1908. La Follette, a fiery speaker and outspoken progressive, made the 18 hours and 23 minute speech to oppose the passage of the Aldrich-Vreeland Act. The act was proposed in the wake of the Panic of 1907, and authorized national banks to issue emergency currency in the times of financial crisis that would be backed by government bonds and securities, in order to quickly stabilize the economy. It also established the National Monetary Commission, a forerunner of the Federal Reserve. La Follette’s opposition to the ball was for naught as filibusters often are, and the bill passed the Senate the next day.
The third longest Senate speech was made in 1953 by Oregon senator Wayne Morse, one of the few independent politicians to be elected to federal office. Morse spoke for what was then a record of 22 hours and 26 minutes against the Tidelands Oil legislation. The legislation was brought up after conflicting results of the Texas annexation treaties emerged regarding the coastal waters bordering Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. While they were United States territorial waters, there was debate on whether the waters should be under the control of the federal government or the state of Texas. The Tidelands Oil bill would give the waters back to Texas, whose state government was dominated by the oil and natural gas corporations. Morse fought hard against the bill, but it passed anyway, and the Gulf coast of Texas went under state control.
The second longest filibuster is held by Alfonse D’Amato, Republican senator from New York from 1981 to 1999. D’Amato’s filibuster in 1986 clocked in at nearly a full day, at 23 hours and 30 minutes. The bill in question was a military spending bill that was going to defund a program for trainer jets made by a company in New York. During this filibuster, D’Amato used the now famous trick of reading from the District of Columbia phone book. This filibuster was actually successful, and kept the contract funded and D’Amato also made the seventh longest Senate filibuster of 15 hours and 14 minutes six years later, over a bill that would have moved a typewriter company’s factory from New York to Mexico.
The granddaddy of all filibusters, however, it the one made by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond in 1957 in opposition of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. During a time when the filibuster was rarely used, the issue of civil rights was divisive enough to bring Thurmond to filibuster the bill despite an agreement by many southern Democratic senators not to. Thurmond’s filibuster is not only infamous for being the longest, clocking in at just over 24 hours and 18 minutes, but also for the increasingly irrelevant topics that the senator covered during his day long speech. During his speech, Thurmond recited several historical documents including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, as well as more obscure topics such as a biscuit recipe that his grandmother used. The full text of the filibuster is available freely on the Congressional Record. To avoid leaving the Senate floor and thus yielding his time, Thurmond’s aides took extreme measures, such as bringing a bucket into the Senate cloakroom so Thurmond could pee in the bucket while keeping one foot in the Senate floor. Despite Thurmond’s determination, the 1957 Civil Rights Act passed after his filibuster had ended.