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In ABC News' October 1 2023 Rep. Bowman says triggering fire alarm ahead of House spending bill vote was 'innocent mistake' there is an embedded short video of House vote-related background material. I can't find a separate copy of this video.

In the middle of this short video the reporter says:

Democrats successfully delaying the vote with a procedural motion before House Minority leader Hakim Jeffries delivered what's called a "magic minute" floor speech -- essentially untimed remarks.

JEFFRIES: "So strap in, because this may take a little while."

Though he ultimately spoke for less than an hour before debate continued and the house voted.

Question: What is the origin and purpose of the "magic minute" floor speech in the US House of Representatives, and why would Minority Leader Hakim Jeffries use one to delay the vote by an hour?

I don't think it was to prevent the ultimately successful vote that received so many Democratic votes. Was this really just a high-visibility time to make highly relevant comments and the 1 hour delay just a price to pay, or did the delay have some other desired effect?

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    Those are two distinct questions. Wikipedia touches.on the first.
    – Brian Z
    Oct 1, 2023 at 3:37
  • @BrianZ Thanks but I don't see them as distinct in this particular case. I believe that it's important to keep both the original purpose of the "magic minute" and the the use of it in this particular case together in a single answer. Context is important here.
    – uhoh
    Oct 1, 2023 at 3:54

1 Answer 1

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I'm not sure of the exact origin of the practice (or of the term), but essentially the "magic minute" allows party leaders in the House to speak as much as they want.

The magic minute, or leadership minute, is a custom in the United States House of Representatives that allows party leaders to speak for as long as they wish, in contrast with other members, who have to adhere to strict time limits.

As for how Jeffries used the time in this instance, it was in order to allow Democrats to review the last-minute deal that will prevent gov't shutdown for some further 47 days.

Democrats initially blasted the last-minute legislation, saying they were blindsided by McCarthy holding an immediate vote on a 71-page bill they hadn’t read. They didn’t trust him to write a “clean” bill and worried there might be something tucked in there that they wouldn't like.

Some circulated a one-pager bashing it. Jeffries used his “magic minute” — a House rule that allows the leader of each party to speak on the floor for as long as they want — for 52 minutes to run the clock so Democrats could review the text.

Somewhat aside, the bill thus passed with bipartisan support, potentially triggering a showdown in the Republican party between the speaker and the "hard right" Freedom Caucus, which more or less promised to oust him if he does something like this.

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    Looks like that will be triggered as Matt Gaetz is saying he will move to remove McCarthy from the speaker position. theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/01/…
    – Joe W
    Oct 1, 2023 at 14:24
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    I guess the term arises from the fact that other House members are typically allowed to talk for just 1 minute. These speakers have the "magic power" of stretching this minute out as long as they want.
    – Barmar
    Oct 1, 2023 at 16:31
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    Why didn't Jeffries use his "magic minute" to read the bill aloud? Oct 1, 2023 at 19:09
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    @DJClayworth: perhaps because the shutdown was averted by merely 3 hours and reading aloud 72 pages might have taken longer? I'm not sure one person can read 72 pages in an hour, but the non-loud job could have been distributed to staff, e.g. every staffer read just 10 pages of the bill to make sure no unexpected riders were in etc. But that's just speculation. Oct 1, 2023 at 20:25
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    @DJClayworth The bill was filled with cross-references to other laws, so just reading the text tells you very little about what it actually does. To learn that, you have to run down all the cross-references, check all changes being made and their effects, and check everything that’s not included but you think should be (i.e. “are there any funds that were appropriated last year but that this doesn’t extend?”)
    – cpast
    Oct 1, 2023 at 22:44

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