Filibuster: Not Like It Used To Be

They used to call it "taking to the diaper," a phrase that referred to the preparation undertaken by a prudent senator before an extended filibuster. The late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for a solo filibuster from the time when he rambled for 24 hours and 18 minutes to prevent the Civil Rights Act of 1957 from coming to a vote. Thurmond geared up by visiting the steam room to get dehydrated so he could drink without needing a bathroom. An aide stood by in the cloakroom with a pail just in case. By contrast, last week's GOP filibuster was a team effort, with cots set up for those who pulled the all-nighter. It was the first real talkathon since 1992, when former senator Al D'Amato held the floor for 15 hours, even bursting into song, to protest the loss of jobs to Mexico from an upstate New York typewriter factory. A filibuster is so disruptive to Senate business that a mere threat of one is enough to bottle up legislation. Republicans, frustrated by Democrats' filibustering four of President Bush's judicial nominees, mounted the showy filibuster to draw attention to the issue. But Democrats have confirmed 168 of Bush's nominees, and the stream of rhetoric didn't change any votes. If anything, positions were hardened. But that may be what the GOP intended. Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, who led the filibuster fight, works closely with White House political adviser Karl Rove. "He wouldn't do this without the blessing of Rove," says an aide to a ranking GOP senator. "This is about getting the troops excited for 2004."

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