The Slatest

Rand Paul’s Bladder Ended His Epic Filibuster. How Did Strom Thurmond’s Last Twice as Long?

Rand Paul grabbed headlines yesterday after waging an old-school talking filibuster for more than 12 hours on the Senate floor

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul ended his old-school Mr. Smith-style talking filibuster at around 12:30 a.m. this morning, after 12 hours and 52 minutes on the Senate floor. During that time the Kentucky Republican had a little help from his friends, with several of his colleagues joining him in the chamber to ask him questions—something that was allowed under Senate rules as long as Paul did not formally yield the floor and remained standing at his desk. Such breaks probably allowed Paul’s voice to hold out a little longer than it would have normally, but they couldn’t postpone nature’s inevitable call. In the end, in the words of the New York Times, that meant the filibuster became “less a standoff between the senator from Kentucky and the administration than a battle between Mr. Paul and his own bladder.” Obviously, that’s a battle that Paul could not win.

“I would try to go another 12 hours and try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but there are some limits to filibustering and I am going to have to go take care of one of those here,” Paul said as he brought things to an end, about 11 and a half hours short of Thurmond’s 24-hour-and-18-minute filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. (As Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner put it this morning: “In the end, Rand Paul did not hate U.S.-citizen-targeted drone strikes as much as Strom Thurmond hated the idea of black people voting.”)

So that may have you wondering: How did Thurmond speak for so long without using the bathroom? He didn’t. But don’t worry, the South Carolina senator didn’t break out a stadium buddy or anything, instead he was simply able to take advantage of a short unplanned break in the action. (A similar situation never presented itself to Paul yesterday, although it’s unclear why one of his colleagues didn’t hatch a plan to create one.) From the Time magazine archives (h/t VF):

But at 1 a.m. Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater approached Thurmond’s desk, asked in a whisper how much longer Strom would last. Back came the answer: “About another hour.” Goldwater asked that Thurmond temporarily yield the floor to him for an insertion in the Congressional Record. Thurmond happily consented — and used the few minute interim to head for the bathroom (for the only time during his speech). He returned and began talking again.

The then-54-year-old Thurmond also prepared better for his lengthy turn on the floor, taking a series of pre-filibuster steam baths to dehydrate himself to limit his need for a bathroom break. Paul, meanwhile, said the spur-of-the-moment nature of his decision to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for CIA director left him largely winging it yesterday. “Well the weird thing is that we didn’t really have a plan,” he told reporters after it was over. “We showed up this morning thinking [the Brennan] debate was going to be tomorrow… I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t wear my most comfortable shoes or anything. I would have worn different shoes.” He also explained that he largely sustained himself with trips to the Senate candy drawer for snacks. Yes, that’s a real thing.

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This post was updated at 10:40 a.m. for style and clarity.