McCarthy delays swift passage of spending plan with record-breaking floor speech

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delayed quick passage of Democrats’ social spending and climate package late Thursday night by holding the floor for more than 8 1/2 hours in a record-breaking filibuster-style speech.

Three members of the House are allowed to speak for unlimited amounts of time during floor debate in what’s known as a “magic minute”: the speaker, majority leader and minority leader.

McCarthy used one of the few tools available to the House minority to delay proceedings by beginning his floor speech at 8:38 p.m. and continuing for more than eight hours.

During the first couple hours, Democrats repeatedly interrupted McCarthy’s speech with jeers and yells to “vote!”

“It’s okay. I’ll be here a long time,” McCarthy taunted Democrats. “I think I’m upsetting other people on the other side of the aisle by telling them what’s in the bill. They just yelled at me that they’re leaving.”

At 4:46 a.m., McCarthy broke the previous record for the longest House floor speech.

That record was set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2018, when she spoke for eight hours and seven minutes in four-inch stilettos to demand that House GOP leaders commit to holding a vote on an immigration reform bill. Pelosi largely spent that time reading aloud stories of individual undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

McCarthy hinted at a desire to break the previous time set by Pelosi. 

“There’s a record,” McCarthy said moments before surpassing eight hours and eight minutes of speaking. “I’m competitive.”

McCarthy eventually concluded a short time later at 5:10 a.m., after eight hours and 32 minutes of continuous speaking that included a combination of reading from prepared remarks and stream-of-consciousness rambling about topics only indirectly related to Democrats’ social spending package.

“This one minute feels almost like eight hours now,” McCarthy joked near the very end, with about a dozen House Republicans still seated behind him.

McCarthy’s speech primarily included the main GOP arguments against the legislation, blasting it as “reckless” spending that wouldn’t address the costs of inflation on Americans’ minds.

But McCarthy also spent much of his remarks veering into topics such as immigration at the southern border; his inability to afford a Tesla and friendship with the electric vehicle company’s owner, Elon Musk; the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan; baby carrots; the deli he opened in his youth; his experience getting a COVID-19 booster shot earlier Thursday; and the Wednesday vote on a resolution put forth by Democrats to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and remove him from House committees for posting an edited anime video on social media that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“I know your side has no problem removing people from committees. I wonder if people keep talking they should be removed from the floor,” McCarthy said after Democrats interrupted him again.

Shortly after midnight, Democratic leaders abandoned plans to vote Thursday night on passage of the social spending package and announced that the House would instead hold the vote early Friday morning after McCarthy finished speaking.

Around 4 a.m., McCarthy opened a thick binder handed to him by an aide so that he could read aloud GOP amendments to the social spending package that Democrats rejected.

Caleb Smith, McCarthy’s digital communications director, said that McCarthy’s longest House floor speech before Thursday was 20 minutes and 17 seconds.

McCarthy’s record-setting speech came after what had already been a long day in the House, where the vote schedule was in flux for most of Thursday as Democrats awaited a cost estimate on the social spending package from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and a review from the Senate parliamentarian to ensure it adhered to the upper chamber’s procedural requirements.

His speech further underscored the scorched-earth environment in the House, where Democrats, as well as two Republicans, moved to censure Gosar earlier this week for the violent anime video in the absence of a public rebuke from McCarthy. Gosar also did not apologize for the video ahead of the censure vote and said he “self-censored” by deleting it from Twitter.

Gosar was just the 24th lawmaker in the House’s history, spanning more than two centuries, to be censured, which Democrats argued was necessary for his promotion of violence months after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

As McCarthy’s speech went past midnight, fewer lawmakers remained in the chamber to listen. At least one of the Republicans sitting directly behind McCarthy in view of the C-SPAN cameras, Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), appeared to nod off and checked his watch.

Democrats didn’t limit expressing their impatience with McCarthy’s delay tactic to inside the House chamber, venting their frustrations on Twitter as well.

“If McCarthy’s ‘one minute’ speech is magic, please saw me in half and put me out of my misery,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) tweeted.

“Andy, we need you to vote first,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) replied.

“Mondaire: If I’m sawed in half, maybe I get two votes!” Levin joked.

Passage of the social spending package has been delayed for months due to divisions among Democrats over process and the size of the sprawling bill, which currently includes provisions such as funding for universal free preschool, child care subsidies, expansion of Medicare benefits to negotiate the price of certain prescription drugs and four weeks of paid family leave.

Democrats moved swiftly to take up the bill on Thursday, the last scheduled day in session before the House’s Thanksgiving recess, as soon as the CBO released its cost estimate. A handful of moderate Democrats had balked at passing the legislation two weeks ago without the CBO’s assessment in hand. 

— Updated on Nov. 19 at 5:27 a.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andy Levin Build Back Better Act Elon Musk Filibuster Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Mondaire Jones Nancy Pelosi Paul Gosar Randy Weber social spending package

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