House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged the closest thing to a filibuster in the chamber on Wednesday as she spoke for more than eight consecutive hours, setting a House record as she demanded a commitment from Republicans to vote on an immigration-reform bill.
As Senate leaders unveiled a bipartisan budget deal across the Capitol, Pelosi held the House floor warning that she wouldn’t vote for it without a firmer commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that the House will consider legislation to protect young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Pelosi, 77, stood in dark blue, four-inch stilettos the whole time as she read aloud stories of individual immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” and argued the merits of allowing them to stay in the country.
Pelosi, who began just after 10 a.m., spoke for a total of eight hours and seven minutes, drawing praise after she finished for her "endurance" even from a top aide to Ryan.
Roughly 50 fellow Democrats were on hand in the House chamber as Pelosi wrapped up. They gave a standing ovation and high-fived her after she concluded her remarks.
The House historian’s office said in a statement that Pelosi’s speech was the longest continuous one it was “able to find on short notice.”
The last known record belonged to then-Rep. Champ Clark (D-Mo.) in 1909 at five hours and 15 minutes, the statement read, but he was repeatedly interrupted, unlike Pelosi.
Pelosi warned that neither she nor “a large number of members of our caucus" would support the budget deal without a clearer statement from GOP leaders.
“Let the House work its will,” Pelosi said. “Why should the House of Representatives be constrained?”
Pelosi's extraordinarily long speech underscored the level of pressure she faces from liberal activists who are urging Democrats to hold firm in negotiations to protect Dreamers. At the same time, Democratic leaders have been working with Republicans to find a way to avoid another government shutdown.
As part of the deal to end the three-day shutdown last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged that he would allow open-ended floor debate on immigration legislation after Feb. 8.
But Ryan would not make any similar pledges in the House or guarantee that any bill passed by the Senate would be considered.
A spokeswoman for Ryan pointed to past public remarks saying that the House plans to consider immigration legislation.
“Speaker Ryan has already repeatedly stated we intend to do a DACA and immigration reform bill one that the president supports,” AshLee Strong said.
Unless enough House Democrats come on board, it’s unclear if the budget deal can pass.
Conservatives plan to oppose the budget plan, citing its impact on the deficit. But liberal Democrats have been adamant since late last year that they would use spending bills as leverage to build pressure for an immigration deal.
The Trump administration is phasing out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted temporary work permits for qualifying young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The roughly 700,000 recipients are in limbo as lawmakers struggle to reach a deal that would allow them to stay in the country while enhancing border security.
President Trump is pushing for money to construct a wall along the Mexican border as he promised on the 2016 campaign trail. In exchange, Trump has proposed establishing a path to citizenship for nearly two million immigrants, which would go beyond the DACA population.
House members cannot stage filibusters in the same way as senators, given that the majority has tight control of the floor in the majoritarian lower chamber.
But three members of the House can speak for unlimited amounts of time under chamber rules: the Speaker, majority leader and minority leader.
The House didn’t always set limits on floor debate in the way the modern chamber currently does.
Lawmakers decided to impose limits on how long they could speak as House membership grew with the westward expansion. The House adopted the first rule in 1841 to limit the time a member could speak in debate on the floor, according to the House historian’s office.
Pelosi began speaking as the House debated a bill related to qualified mortgages. That means the House was technically still debating the legislation, even though Pelosi spent her time speaking about immigration.