The filibuster has been a controversial maneuver for well over a century. Both Henry Clay and Woodrow Wilson were vocal critics of the filibuster, with the latter claiming that it often rendered the government “helpless and contemptible.” Say what you will about the parliamentary procedure, but American filibusters have certainly produced some unusual moments, including these.
1. Assault with a Spittoon // March 4, 1917
Robert La Follette was an antiwar Republican from Wisconsin who orchestrated a joint filibuster divided between a dozen sympathetic senators, which began on March 3 and stretched into the next day, incensing their colleagues. At one point, La Follette lost his temper and had to be physically restrained from hurling a brass spittoon at Arkansas’ Joseph Robinson.
2. Southern Cooking 101 // June 12, 1935
“I have prepared recipes for many celebrated Louisiana dishes … people up in this part of the country never have learned to fry oysters as well as we have done down our way,” Huey Long said on June 12, 1935. Dreading the possibility that his political rivals might land lucrative New Deal jobs, the Bayou State Democrat prattled on well into the next day, providing detailed instructions for cooking gulf coast delicacies in the process. His filibuster ended when he had to go to the bathroom.
3. Preparing a pee bucket // August 28, 1957
The longest filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate was delivered by then-Democrat Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. What was it that he so vehemently opposed for over 24 straight hours? The Civil Rights Bill of 1957. And if you think your internship is underpaid, get a load of this: After a procedural trick was used at 1 a.m. to allow Thurmond a few minutes for a bathroom break, his supporters were determined that this wouldn’t happen again. Instead, his staff had an intern hold a bucket inside a nearby cloakroom so Thurmond could urinate, if necessary, while keeping one foot on the Senate floor. The bill passed anyway, but Thurmond’s technique was imitated during a St. Louis city hall filibuster in 2001. When nature called mid-filibuster, Alderwoman Irene Smith’s assistants covered her with a sheet as she peed into a garbage can.
4. Reading the Phone Book // October 17, 1986
Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) nearly broke Thurmond’s record while stalling a military appropriations bill in 1986. Struggling to fill 23 and a half hours of speaking time, he resorted to reading aloud from the District of Columbia telephone book.
5. Singing “South of the Border” // October 5, 1992
Filibusters can be boring, so why not throw in a musical number? Six years after his first filibuster, D’Amato was at it again and chose to break out into song when he took the floor to denounce a proposed tax plan. This one only lasted a measly 15 hours and 14 minutes (at that time, the House adjourned for the year, and the tax bill that the filibuster was targeting died), but an eye-opening digression came when the Republican began singing “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)” to satirize the outsourcing of American jobs.
Bonus: Reading Dr. Seuss // September 25, 2013
Technically, Ted Cruz’s lengthy tirade in 2013 wasn’t an actual filibuster because it had no procedural impact on the vote at hand. But the Texas Republican made headlines when he read Green Eggs and Ham during his 21-hour critique of the Affordable Healthcare Act.