What is a Filibuster?
The Senate's rules say that a Senator has a right to speak on the floor for
as long as he or she wishes. In the House, where we have 435 members
competing for time, all debate is limited. But, in the Senate, there are
only 100 people vying for floor time and they all believe their opinions
deserve to be thoroughly aired for the people and their colleagues.
Senators threaten a "filibuster," taking the floor indefinitely, to defeat a
bill by delaying or even preventing its ever being considered or voted on. In
the face of a threatened filibuster, the majority leader may decide not to
bring a bill to the floor at all or delay calling it up if there are other
noncontroversial bills ready to be voted on.
Usually, a threatened filibuster is used to strong arm proponents of a bill
to accept changes in the bill they don't support, but are necessary to avoid
a filibuster and the horrible PR that accompanies it.
The only way to defeat a filibuster is 1) the Senator relinquishes the floor
voluntarily or 2) the Senate invokes "cloture." Cloture just means ending
the debate so the Senate can move to a vote on the bill. However, it takes
16 Senators to present a cloture motion and the Senate cannot vote on the
cloture motion until the second day after the motion is offered. Then, it
requires at least 60 votes to invoke cloture.
People don't really filibuster anymore. Interesting tidbit: The longest
filibuster speech in Senate history was in 1957 by South Carolina Senator
Strom Thurmond opposing a fair housing bill. It lasted 24 hours, 18
Many many thanks to my friend Kelly for writing this. -TK
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