Thursday, January 28, 2021

What's your FQ? Take our filibuster quiz -- Jan. 28, 2021 column


The filibuster is safe, for now.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed the Senate to get on with its work after two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they would not vote to bust the filibuster.

But saying the filibuster is safe is like saying the ground beef you left on the counter with your dog in the kitchen is safe while you go to the living room to greet guests. Which is to say, not very.

Senate traditionalists have long argued that the filibuster protects the political minority’s rights and forces a bipartisan approach by requiring a supermajority to break one.

Since the filibuster impedes the party in power from enacting its agenda, Republicans now want to use it to stifle Democratic plans. Meanwhile, some Democrats want to ditch the filibuster to smooth the way for President Joe Biden, although doing so would also smooth the way for the next Republican president.

One thing is certain: With the Senate comprised of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the filibuster fight is just heating up.

How much do you know about the filibuster? Take our 10-question quiz.

1)     What’s the origin of the word filibuster?

A.   Italian word for an insect with a long tongue

B.    Dutch word for a pirate, with French and Spanish connections

C.    Old English word for breaking a wild horse

D.   French word for an article of women’s clothing


2)    When did the filibuster come to be used to prevent a vote on a bill?

A.   1820s

B.    1850s

C.    1880s

D.   1920s


3)    Which of these is not correct?

A.   The filibuster is a tool used to kill or change legislation in the Senate, originally by talking it to death but now by threatening to filibuster

B.    Representatives used to be able to filibuster, but the House changed its rules

C.    Senators used to be able to talk as long as they wanted on any issue

D.   The right to filibuster is in the Constitution


4)    Many Americans know the Senate filibuster from the classic 1939 Frank Capra film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” What did Mr. Smith – a.k.a. Jimmy Stewart -- want to build?

A.   A local savings and loan

B.    A hotel

C.    A boys’ camp

D.   A border wall

5)  What does it mean to invoke cloture?

             A. Senators vote to end debate

             B. Senators vote to go on vacation

             C. Senators go to the cloakroom and confer

             D. Senators meet lobbyists behind closed doors to raise money

 6) What’s Rule 22?

             A. A measuring tool invented by Thomas Jefferson

             B. A rule allowing unlimited free speech in the Senate

             C. A rule adopted in 1917 that permits the Senate to end debate with a two-thirds majority vote

             D. A rule prohibiting senators from talking more than 22 consecutive hours

 7) Southern Democratic senators used the filibuster in the 20th century to do what?

             A. Block civil rights legislation

             B. Block anti-lynching legislation

             C. Block rock-and-roll lyrics they thought obscene

             D. Block both civil rights and anti-lynching legislation

  8) Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina holds the Senate record for longest individual speech. How long did Thurmond filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957?

           A. 22 hours and 3 minutes

           B. 23 hours and 59 minutes

           C. 24 hours and 18 minutes

           D. 25 hours and 2 minutes

  9) In 1975, the Senate changed the number of votes required for cloture. How many votes are required now to end debate?

         A. Three-fifths – or 60 of the current 100 senators

         B.  Half plus one -- 51 senators

         C. Half plus five – 55 senators

         D. Three-fourths – 75 senators

 10) A group of Southern Democrats staged the longest filibuster in American history against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How long did that filibuster last?

    A.  40 days

    B.  50 days

    C.  60 days

    D. 75 days




1)    B

2)    B

3)    D

4)    C

5)    A

6)    C

7)    D

8)    C

9)    A

10)  C

Sources: U.S. Senate Historical Office on, Congressional Research Service reports.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at

© 2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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