What If They Held a Faux-Filibuster and Nobody Came?

Minority Leader Pelosi talks (and talks) DACA

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 8, 2018

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took (D-Calif.) to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday and spoke for more than eight hours to argue for regularization of the status of aliens granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). According to the Washington Post:

The 77-year-old Pelosi stood for more than eight hours, reading multiple personal stories from "dreamers" and citing Bible passages. Her speech ranked as the longest given by a member of the House of Representatives in at least a century, possibly ever, focusing on an issue that has vexed Democrats for months.


At one point, she lamented that she didn't have a rosary, so Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) gave her one. Pelosi read passages from the Gospel of Matthew found for her by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), a former Jesuit missionary.

Technically, it was not a filibuster, which is strictly a Senate procedure. As the Washington Examiner explains, however:

[B]oth Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are both permitted to talk at length on the floor because of their leadership status. Both of them often request one minute to speak, but go on for several minutes, a privilege afforded to them because of their status.

The triggering factor for this unusual act was the passage by the Senate of a two-year budget agreement that did not include a provision for DACA beneficiaries.

A short-term agreement to fund the government had been passed by the Senate and the House on January 22, 2018, following a three-day shutdown. That agreement was reached after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to bring immigration legislation to the floor of the Senate, by February 8, 2018, the date on which that funding agreement is set to expire.

The Senate agreement (which has not been voted on) would lift budget caps on defense and nondefense spending and fund the government through March 23, 2018. McConnell has promised that an open (and undefined) immigration bill will be introduced in the Senate after it passes the budget bill. No such promises have reportedly been made in the House.

Pelosi had earlier asserted that she would oppose that budget bill if House Speaker Paul Ryan did not agree to bring a DACA bill to the floor, according to CBS News.

As the Washington Post explained her actions:

The speech underscored that Democrats lack the leverage they insisted they would have in spending showdowns with Republicans. Pelosi and others repeatedly promised immigration activists and the party base they would force a vote sparing undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation after President Trump rescinded the program in September.

Instead, Democrats' ineffectiveness has angered those same activists and the voters critical in a midterm election year with control of the House at stake.

Curiously, however, the Minority Leader's action appears to have garnered more attention because of its record length rather than its topic. For example, CBS News' headline on the Leader's floor action was captioned: "Nancy Pelosi sets record for longest House floor speech about Dreamers." The Hill headline read: "Pelosi sets record with eight-hour House speech on immigration." Roll Call: "Nancy Pelosi Claims Record for Longest House Floor Speech." Newsday: "Pelosi speaks for record 8 hours in favor of 'Dreamers'." ABC News: "Pelosi ends immigration speech after more than 8 hours, setting record."

In its print edition, the Wall Street Journal reported on the leader's floor statement on page A4, in a box below the fold with the headline "Pelosi Presses Case for DACA Debate." (The online version is captioned: "Nancy Pelosi Presses Paul Ryan to Allow Full Immigration Debate in House," and contains 13 additional paragraphs discussing the Senate negotiations and the DACA program generally.)

Also (and again, curiously) noted by the media was Leader Pelosi's footwear. The Cut's headline proclaims: "Nancy Pelosi Defended Dreamers for 8 Hours in 4-Inch Heels." Racked announced: "Nancy Pelosi's Heels Are the New Filibuster Sneaker[,] The House Minority Leader speechified in 4-inch heels for more than 8 hours straight." According to AOL: "Nancy Pelosi just gave the longest continuous speech in House history — all in 4-inch heels." Even Footwear News got in on the act: "Nancy Pelosi Defends Dreamers in 4-Inch Heels for 8 Hours."

Notwithstanding its length, that statement appears to have not made a significant impression on its target audience: Democratic House members. For example, Newsday (in the article cited above) quoted Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who stated: "I'm going to take everything she says at face value. ... And then hopefully tomorrow she will validate that trust by stopping us from voting for it. If she doesn't, then it was a nice speech." Worse for Pelosi, Politico quoted Gutierrez as stating: "There's all kinds of ways, I assure you, that leadership exercises its influence — the least of which is a floor speech."

More moderate members of the leader's own caucus were even more critical, Politico reported:

Some centrist-minded Democrats said Pelosi's daylong protest could — by calling attention to the failure to provide relief for Dreamers — make it that much harder for vulnerable members to vote for the budget deal.

"This stunt ... had nothing to do with protecting vulnerable members who have to take a difficult vote," said one moderate lawmaker who asked not to be named. "Working out this deal and then saying she's not going to vote for it? Come on. She was at the table."

Finally, the leader's floor statement appears to have been little more than just rhetoric. Newsday reported that "numerous House Democrats said they weren't being pushed by Pelosi's leadership team to oppose the Senate deal without a DACA fix, and some of Pelosi's top lieutenants said no such effort was underway."

Filibusters (even faux ones) are supposed to stop legislation, not promote it. And DACA has already seen its fair share of overheated posturing, in particular from the minority leader. She has already attacked the president's DACA proposal as "trash", and asserted that the plan was a "campaign to make America white again." It is difficult to see how any of this is advancing Leader Pelosi's party or her cause.

Instead, such stunts and divisiveness are simply becoming background noise, regardless of footwear.