House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a record-breaking eight-hour speech on Wednesday in an attempt to force a House vote on protections for the “Dreamer” immigrants — and to prove to an increasingly angry wing of progressives and activists that she has done all she could.
Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Ms Pelosi spent much of the rare talkathon reading personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month.
The California Democrat quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis, as Democrats took turns sitting behind her in support. The Office of the House Historian said it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on record.
“You see, these people are being deported,” Ms Pelosi said, at around the sixth hour of her speech. “We can do something today to at least make whole the children.”
The performance had no immediate impact on Republican leaders, who have not agreed to a vote.
Just seeing all of these #GoNancyGo messages. Truly very moving. But let's not lose focus of who really matters here. Thank you to our #Dreamers. And thank you to your parents for allowing us all the pleasure of having you be a part of our American family every day. #DREAMActNow— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 7, 2018
But it was perhaps equally aimed at the liberal wing of Ms Pelosi’s own party, who seethed on Wednesday as Democrats in the Senate cut a budget deal that could quickly steal the momentum behind the effort to resolve the Dreamers’ plight.
While she spoke on the House floor, immigration activists rallied in Washington and threatened political retribution against the congressional Democrats who abandoned the strategy of demanding that a budget deal be paired with an immigration deal.
The fresh threats exposed deepening divisions within a Democratic Party struggling to address a liberal priority in Republican-controlled Washington.
The activists who filled a Washington church on Wednesday, like liberal leaders nationwide, called out Ms Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by name.
Some scoffed at Ms Pelosi’s speech, intended to elicit a promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan to allow a vote on subsequent legislation to protect the younger immigrants. Mr Ryan’s promise, activists noted, was far from a guarantee.
“What are they thinking? They’re giving up their leverage,” said a frustrated Angel Padilla, policy director for the liberal group Indivisible. “All of these votes will matter come November.”
Ms Pelosi started her remarks at about 10am and yielded the floor at 6.11pm.
By the end of the marathon, the clearest signs of weariness were an occasional quiver in her voice, a stumble over her words and a case of the sniffles. At one point she interrupted herself to read a note from the House historian alerting her that she had delivered the longest continuous speech, besting Republican Champ Clark’s five-hour, 15-minute stem-winder about tariff reform in 1909.
As Ms Pelosi wrapped up, she received a standing ovation from the Democrats. A bit punchy and clearly tired, she at times struggled for the words to express her thanks.
“Honour the House of Representative and give us a chance to have a vote on the floor,” she said.
At issue is the fate of roughly 1.8 million immigrants brought to the country as children and living here illegally. Many of the so-called “Dreamers” could lose protection from deportation — granted by the Obama administration in 2014 and rescinded by Donald Trump last fall — in the coming weeks.
No issue is more important to the Democratic Party’s most passionate voters, who insist their party must reject any budget deal that doesn’t protect the young immigrants — even if it means risking a second government shutdown this year. The federal government will shutter non-essential operations at midnight on Thursday unless Congress passes a spending plan.
It is unclear whether the liberal outrage will sink the two-year budget deal unveiled on Wednesday that would provide Pentagon and domestic programmes with huge spending increases.