Fact Check: Is Ted Cruz’s “Long Speech” a Filibuster?

Posted: Sep 25, 2013 11:35 AM

It depends on who you talk to, I suppose.

Over the past 24 hours there’s been much debate about whether or not Senator Ted Cruz’s 20 hour-long (and counting) talk-a-thon is a genuine “filibuster.” Some publications have unequivocally said no, others have mocked Cruz for launching what they describe as a “faux,” “fake,” and “phony” effort to defund Obamacare. But as it turns out, Cruz’s “long speech” is technically a filibuster -- at least according to the Senate historian’s office (via Politico).

Even C-SPAN jumped on the no-filibuster bandwagon.

“This is technically not a filibuster since Sen. Cruz is not delaying action on a bill,” reads a screenshot caption of the Congress channel’s Cruz footage from 5:30 a.m., captured by Talking Points Memo. “He must stop speaking before the Senate votes later today.”

But the Senate historian’s office has a different take. They found yes, this could be a filibuster — mostly because there is no set definition of what a “filibuster” actually is.

“Our answer to that is that filibusters traditionally don’t have to be something that’s meant to delay a piece of legislative business,” Scott said. “Filibusters can also be one member’s effort to get word out and educate peopleSome people think it’s specifically to stop legislation, but it’s not necessarily to do that.”

Of course, even the experts disagree.

“This is a put-up job,” said former Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove, noting reports that Cruz and Reid set the terms beforehand. “It’s not like filibusters I have watched, where they really were trying to delay things.”

This whole debate may seem like a moot or irrelevant discussion; a matter of semantics, if you will. And perhaps it is. After all, the purpose of Cruz’s filibuster (or, if you prefer, speech) is not to defund Obamacare per se (a political impossibility right now, it seems), but to educate the public about the deleterious effects of Obamacare. Cruz, for his part, has said time and again that defunding Obamacare cannot happen if the American people are not engaged and/or participating in this historic effort. And that, in turn, means Republican Senators are wholly powerless without their support. But whether or not Cruz's hours-long speech was a "real" filibuster or not shouldn't excuse the flagrant media bias going on here, a phenomenon Dylan Byers wrote about this morning:

Yes, the difference between filibustering and grandstanding plays a part. Equally important is the fact that Cruz's theatrics are frustrating members of his own party. But, part of the disparity in coverage is due to the fact that the mainstream media, generally speaking, don't admire Cruz the way they admired Davis -- or rather, they admire him only insofar as he makes for tragicomic theater, whereas they admired her on the merits.

Cruz is portrayed in the media as "aimless and self-destructive" (NYT ed board), elitist (GQ), and likely guided more by presidential aspirations than principles (CNN). Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, had no qualms about coming right out and calling Cruz, his former Princeton colleague, an "arrogant jerk" -- and worse.

These portrayals may be accurate or inaccuarate -- Cruz certainly has an elitist strain and he certainly has political ambitions. But that's not the point: the point is that the coverage of Cruz has been critical -- and in some cases unforgiving -- from the outset. At least initially, Davis wasn't viewed through a critical lens at all. Her willingness to stand for eleven hours was evidence of the American dream in action. Period.

Curiously, as the Examiner’s Tim Carney noted, Wendy Davis filibustered a bill that would save the lives of untold unborn babies from legalized, late-term abortion; Ted Cruz “filibustered” a law that, by and large, most Americans despise. And yet the media declared Davis a “hero” -- and Cruz an “arrogant jerk.” Go figure.

Recommended Townhall Video