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The Do’s and Don’ts of a Filibuster

No bathroom breaks, but there's candy around, somewhere

Jimmy Stewart as Sen. Jefferson Smith in the 1939 Hollywood classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." (Columbia Pictures/Wikipedia)
Jimmy Stewart as Sen. Jefferson Smith in the 1939 Hollywood classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." (Columbia Pictures/Wikipedia)


Do call a friend. Call lots of friends.


You can talk about anything you want to during a filibuster, but even members of Congress can get tired of talking.  That’s when lining up some friends is essential. They also will get to make really long statements about just about anything. But they need to be careful. Just like in Jeopardy, what they say has to be in the form of a question.


Don’t guzzle just before the filibuster.


OK, maybe you already know the rules about what you can drink during a filibuster. Water and milk are all you’re supposed to get. That six-pack may be awfully tempting, but it’s not just about the carbs. No bathroom breaks allowed.


Do grab a bite to eat.


But don’t overdo it. Again, no bathroom breaks allowed. As you probably already know, there’s a semi-secret “candy desk” in the Senate, purportedly where a senator from a state that begins with “P” and ends with “ennsylvania” sits. Technically, you’re not supposed to eat anything, but filibusterers have been known to scarf down a bit of hard candy. Your friends also may try to smuggle some food to you, but be prepared to step away from the Reuben.


Do come prepared.


Comfortable shoes are a plus. You can’t sit down. If you do, you’ve yielded the floor and your filibuster is over. You’re not even supposed to step away from your desk. Rumors have it that some filibusterers have discreetly used catheter bags (again, the bathroom thing). Your entourage may be able to bring in food. And even a cot. But not for you.


Don’t let your opponents get in a word edge-wise.


You know they’re going to try. Aside from being put out that they’re not in the limelight, they may have an ulterior motive. If you yield and let them talk, for anything other than a question, you could trip up — and goodbye filibuster.


Do bring some props.


Reading a really big book — like the phone book (if there is such a thing anymore) or the Bible (that’s definitely around) —  is one way to fill the hours. How about reading from a Dr. Seuss book, something that folks on the other side of the aisle can understand? Or, is there a book you’ve just been dying to read and haven’t the time? Your moment has come. One caution: Hauling in a big pile of reading material could tip your hand.


Do know when to hold and when to fold.


Best-case scenario, you get what you want, or at least something for your troubles. But what if that’s not going to happen? Don’t worry too much about the opposition lining up enough votes to stop your filibuster — it takes 60 — because that could take days. You may just have to accept that the filibuster has gone on long enough when you start hallucinating about waterfalls and waves hitting the beach.

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