Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 22 - Filibuster - full transcript

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight !

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you so much for joining us.

A quick recap of the week.
It was a busy one for the president,

who spent seemingly the entire week
desperately trying to prove

that he was in the right
when he claimed that last Sunday,

Alabama was among the states most
likely to be hit by Hurricane Dorian,

an effort that involved more than
10 tweets and this incredible moment.

President Trump showed off
this old map of Dorian's forecast path,

insisting he was right when he warned
Alabama was in the danger zone.

But tonight,
that map is raising new questions.

The black line projecting that Dorian
would move from Florida into Alabama

appears to be drawn on
by a marker.

This is what the president said...

That map it looked
like it almost had a Sharpie.

I don't know.
I don't know. I don't know.

Really ? You don't know ?
Are you sure about that ?

You don't think
that you might've done it ?

For someone who lies so constantly,
it's astounding how bad he is at it.

There is a non zero chance that,
if he loses every state next year,

he'll claim he's won by standing
next to a fully-blue map

with the word "red" written on it, with
Sharpie stains on his fingers, saying:

"How did this happen ? I don't know,
I don't know, I don't know."

The "Washington Post"
talked to a White House official

who confirmed
it was Trump who did it, saying:

"No one else writes like that
on a map with a black Sharpie."

And of course they don't.

Trump is notorious for using Sharpies
to fix things he doesn't like.

In fact, years ago,

one of our writers wrote a blog post
about him for "Vanity Fair",

and he printed it out
and sent it to her boss like this,

with notes all over it,

including annotating the photo of him
with "Bad Picture (No Surprise),"

and this is my favorite part,

circling her name and writing
next to it "Bad Writer !"

To be fair to him: I've been saying
the same thing to her for six years.

But I don't do it in Sharpie !

I do it by ruthlessly demanding
endless rewrites

and being generally
withholding of praise.

Like a professional.

But instead of getting sucked
into that wormhole,

let's turn to the UK,
and their prime minister Boris Johnson.

If you want to make one at home, the
recipe is simply "Boil one (1) clown".

It was a chaotic week for Boris.

The deadline for Britain to leave
the E.U. is less than 8 weeks away.

His tactic in trying to secure a better
deal is to threaten a "no-deal Brexit",

which could destabilize Europe
and seriously damage the UK.

Parliament stepped in this week,

holding a sequence of votes
to prevent that from happening.

Boris's first major defeat
came on Tuesday,

and if you listen closely
after the vote tally is announced,

one MP pretty accurately
summed the situation up.

The ayes to the right. 328.

The noes to the left, 301.

Not a good start, Boris.

Here's the thing,
that's actually savage.

You have to understand
to a British sensibility,

"Not a good start, Boris"
is pretty much tantamount to,

"You really shit the bed,
sun-bleached photo-realistic Shrek."

And that defeat was just part
of a day of absolute mayhem.

Johnson lost
his parliamentary majority

when one of his MP's
defected to the Liberal Democrats

by physically moving across the aisle
while he was speaking.

One of his lieutenants was criticized
for sitting like this during a debate,

in a position that can be described
as "waiting to be fed grapes".

It's the look you'd expect for someone
who just masturbated in a hammock.

He looks like he's posing
for the cover of "Inbred Quarterly".

Things were chaotic, an amendment
seemed to pass by accident.

A lot of things
can happen by accident,

but changes to legislation
should frankly not be one of them.

It's like realizing

you shaved Henry Winkler's face
into the fur of a moose.

What the fuck
was happening in your life

that that could happen
inadvertently ?

It starts to make sense

when you realize how rowdy
the atmosphere in Parliament was,

with the speaker
rebuking a member like this.

Very rude, the members, order.

Order. Order, order, I say
to the chancellor of the duchy

that when he turns up
at our children's school as a parent,

he's a very well-behaved fellow.

Don't gesticulate, don't rant,
spare us the theatrics,

behave yourself,
be a good boy, young man.

Be a good boy !

Wait. "Be a good boy" ?

If he's gonna speak to a British
lawmaker like he's talking to a dog,

I hope he speaks to dogs
like he's addressing British lawmakers.

"Would the right honorable gentleman,
Mr. Waggles,"

"please finish
licking his ballsack ?"

"It's time for him
to take a shit on the pavement."

"Order ! Order ! Very rude."

Incidentally, as you may know,
the UK has a stupid law

prohibiting the use of parliamentary
footage in comedy shows.

Whenever we use it on this show,
we have to swap it out for them

with something else,
with zero explanation.

So, they'll be getting three clips
from this Irish Catholic sex-ed film

from the 1980s instead.

It's amazing how God made it,

because while they're making love
and being happy together,

the woman feels her vagina
becoming kind of slippery inside,

so that the penis can easily
slip in and out, no trouble.

I know. It's hot, right ?

It's genuinely difficult to decide
which part of that is the most sexy:

the reference to God,
the uninterrupted eye contact,

or the absolute dream of hearing
her say the word "slippery."

It all works for me.
It's all good for me.

And we're still just scratching
the surface of Boris's week.

Because with his own party
in open rebellion,

he took revenge
by expelling 21 of his own MPs,

one of whom
was Winston Churchill's grandson.

And that wasn't all-more members
then resigned in protest,

even this guy,
who is Boris's own brother.

Jo Johnson
must be the first minister

to resign to spend less time
with his family.

Jo Johnson tweeted:

"I've been torn between family loyalty
and the national interest"

"it's an unresolvable tension & time
for others,"

"to take on my roles
as MP & Minister."

"Hashtag #overandout."

Holy shit !

I don't know what's worse:
betraying your prime minister brother

because you think supporting him
might be against the national interest

or doing it with a hashtag.

I'm not saying I'm against hashtags.
I'm just saying "over-and-out" is lazy,

when he had so many better options
at his disposal.

How about:
#BoJosBroBroJoJoSaysNoMo ?

Or #BoJoToJoJoOhNoSayItAintSoSo ?

Or #CitingFomoJoJoGoesNomoBoJo ?

Or just #HotterBrother

But wait,
'cause it gets one step crazier !

While Parliament has passed that bill
forcing Boris

to ask the EU for a Brexit delay
if a deal can't be reached,

he's indicated he may ignore that,

which could trigger
a legal and constitutional crisis.

And with the Brexit
deadline at the end of next month,

Boris now wants an election.

And if he can't get Parliament
to give him one on his terms,

he may, and this is true,
call a no-confidence vote in himself.

It was a week so absurd,

I think this commentator
may've summed it up best.

Nobody alive has lived
through this kind of collapse

of the way that governments operate.

I still think we're gonna see
a general election

but, you know, I can't be
a hundred percent certain of that

as I can hardly be certain
about anything in politics.

I just, to reiterate, chaos.

Look... English me is right.

He missed the memo
about losing the bangs, but he's right.

We are no closer to a safe Brexit
resolution than we were 3 years ago,

there's discord in Boris's party,
the wrong Johnson resigned.

Boris is about to suspend Parliament.
No one knows what's gonna happen.

All of which is really just a long way
of saying: not a good start, Boris !

And now, this !

And Now: Fox Business's Stu Varney
Gets All Giddy Over The President.

America will never be
a socialist country.

Don't you love it ? I stood up
and cheered for that one.

Well said, Mr. President.
That's telling them !

Tell us how it is, Mr. President.

He's back.
And he hasn't changed a bit.

Your dad,
the president of the United States,

tweets me occasionally
using my name.

Is he gonna keep doing that ?

I'm sorry if I got it wrong.

As you say in your tweet,
the wall is being built now.

Thank you for calling me out.

We're glad you are watching.
Thank you, Mr. President.

If you're watching,
you'll like this.

Makes me feel real good !
I'm an immigrant, for heaven's sake.

The President of the USA
quoted by him.

- You're blushing.
- Yes.

Deep breaths !

I love Stuart !

- Happy Friday to you, Stuart !
- An extraordinary day.

President Trump
just walked into the room.

I stood up, shook hands,
and he's with us right now.

- Thanks for being with us.
- It's only because I like your show.

- Thank you very much indeed, sir.
- We love having you.

- Thank you very much, indeed.
- Thank you very much.

There will be more Varney
after this.

Moving on. Our main story tonight
concerns legislation.

This guy from "Schoolhouse Rock !"

Bill. His last name is "Cosby".
You can see why he dropped it.

Anyway: in the lead-up
to the democratic primaries,

we've heard a lot of big promises

about the fabulous bills candidates
will sign when they're elected.

The best way to go forward

is through a Medicare for All,
single payer program.

I have a proposal to build
about 3 million new housing units.

My big idea is a freedom
dividend of $1,000 a month

for every American adult
starting at age 18.

My big idea is baby bonds.

We need to have our transportation
system run on electricity.

I'm gonna make sure that happens.

No, Jay Inslee,
you're not gonna make that happen,

primarily 'cause you dropped
out of the race two weeks ago.

Possibly because your campaign tactic
of "drive-by scooter-shouting"

was, at best,
a little ahead of its time.

As appealing
as many of those ideas sound,

none are likely to happen,
even if a Democrat wins,

because they'd have
to go through the Senate.

And the Senate-it's the country's
second most influential body,

after Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's.

Ladies and gentlemen,
that man is five years older than me.

Whatever you're thinking now,
I know.

The modern Senate
is a giant non-functioning roadblock,

as any senator on their way out
will tell you.

The Senate
as an institution is in crisis.

The people's business
is not getting done.

We're getting nothing done my friends;
we're getting nothing done !

The United States Senate is no longer
the world's greatest deliberative body

and everybody
needs to quit saying it.

Senators regularly do the thing
that most people can only dream of:

leave their jobs, while telling
off everyone they worked with.

"This is no longer the town's
greatest Jamba Juice"

"and everyone
needs to quit saying it !"

You're making bad juice, my friends,
you're making bad juice !

The Senate doesn't pass
many major laws these days.

You could argue the last major
social program passed into law

was Obamacare, a decade ago.

That low level of production

is largely thanks to one incredibly
annoying legislative tool.

Not actually this tool.
Although he is certainly at fault.

I'm referring to the filibuster.

So, that is what we're actually
going to look at tonight.

Or, if you're watching this
on YouTube: this morning.

Or, if you reached for the remote the
moment I said the word "filibuster":

and I completely understand !

A filibuster is any tactic
aimed at blocking a measure

by preventing it
from coming to a vote.

The word "filibuster" is derived
from the Dutch word for "freebooter",

which basically means "pirate".

And I didn't even know
there were Dutch pirates,

but I'd absolutely
watch a movie about them.

And remember:
"dead men tell no talesh !"

If you are at all
aware of the filibuster,

you know it as "that thing where
a senator stands and talks endlessly."

It's often been presented in TV
and movies as a heroic act,

like when Jimmy Stewart
talked himself to exhaustion

in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington".

I'm gonna stay right here
and fight for this lost cause,

even if this room gets filled
with lies like these;

and the Taylors and all their armies
come marching into this place.

Somebody'll listen to me.

He was a bad actor.

They were all pretty bad back then
but he was especially bad.

The thing is that movie made
the filibuster seem like a good idea.

Just like how "The Wizard of Oz"
made going on a trip with a furry,

a vagrant, and an axe-wielding robot
seem like a good idea.

But in real life:
it's only a good idea if you know them.

But the modern filibuster is nothing
like the Jimmy Stewart version.

It's become
an overused tool of obstruction,

and it essentially means
that a simple majority of 51 votes

isn't nearly enough
to pass legislation.

If you don't get 60 votes for a bill,
it's dead.

Which means theoretically, senators
from the 21 least populated states,

representing just 11% of Americans,
could overrule everyone else.

Which seems pretty extreme.
To quote everyone

who's sat in a bathroom stall
with a 3-inch gap in the door:

why on earth
was it designed this way ?

People often claim that it goes back
to the founding of the country.

An argument that runs like this.

You may wonder why
the Senate has this 60-vote rule,

when it's a straight majority rule
in the House.

The answer is that the founders
meant it that way.

The Senate was designed
to be the "cooling saucer"

where the two parties
were forced to work together

and hence that 60-vote threshold.

A few things about that.
The first thing is that it is not true.

Nothing about a 60-vote threshold
for legislation in the Constitution,

in the Federalist Papers,
in Jefferson's private letters,

nothing skillfully
rapped by Alexander Hamilton

to the delight
of everyone within earshot.

Some historians say the filibuster
was created by mistake.

The first one didn't take place
until 1837.

So, it was categorically not
part of the founders' original vision.

Like claiming the day Graham Bell
invented the telephone,

he also sent the first dick pic.

No. He didn't. That development
came much later. Two weeks later.

She is right about that
whole "cooling saucer" idea.

That's a story that comes up
constantly, and it goes like this.

The Senate was created to be
a cooling saucer

to the hot legislation
that comes from the House.

It is the cooling saucer,
we all know the story.

The old metaphor
Washington used:

the House is the cup of coffee.

The Senate is the saucer
that you pour the coffee into,

so it can cool
the passions of the House.

First, never say "cool" like that
ever again, ever.

Setting aside the argument that
the Senate should be more deliberative,

you might be wondering: why would
someone pour coffee into a saucer ?

In the 18th century,
people did exactly that.

They would pour coffee
out of their cup, into a saucer

to let it cool, and then drink it
directly from that.

Ridiculous and something
I wish I'd never learned.

Thomas Jefferson seems like
a towering historical figure

until you imagine him
sipping out of a saucer like a cat.

The founders wanted the Senate
to be a counterweight to the House.

They achieved that by having fewer
members who serve longer terms,

six years, not two,

and, until 1913, not having them
directly elected by the people.

If keeping the filibuster is not
following the founders' wishes,

why do we still have it ?

Some argue it preserves the Senate's
ability to be a bastion of debate,

as this senator explained in 1952.

The Senate of the US is the last
open forum in the world

where the rights of minorities can be
fully, freely and completely debated.

While I would never and have never
taken part in a filibuster,

neither would I take part in an effort
which would result

in depriving any minority group
from having their cause fully discussed

and fully debated on the floor
of the US Senate.

The Senate's reputation as a haven
of gentlemanly debate is overblown.

In the 1800s, senators
pulled pistols on each other,

and at one point, a congressman
used a metal-topped cane

to beat Senator Charles Sumner
nearly to death.

Feeling nostalgic for the golden age
of the Senate is like feeling nostalgic

for 90's indie films, then
actually watching "Chasing Amy".

Set aside the notion that any lesbian
can be magically turned straight

if the right guy comes along.

What's extra-offensive is the idea that
that guy would be Ben Affleck.

That guy touched on another major
argument for the filibuster, there:

that it protects minority rights.

The minority whose rights have
been protected by the filibuster

are the political minority

who've used it restrict
the rights of racial minorities.

The Senate's
website calls the filibuster

"useful to southern senators
to block civil rights legislation"

and it was used most notably
by Senator Strom Thurmond.

Watch him announce his plans

to try and kill the Civil Rights Act
of 1964

by subjecting it
to endless debate.

It will be the aim of our small band
of southern senators

to make certain that every facet
of this legislation is discussed,

considered and expanded
at great length,

even indefinitely, if necessary.

He wanted to debate it indefinitely.

His goal wasn't to consider every
aspect, his goal was to kill it.

Like a five year-old saying:
"I shall pull the legs off this bug,"

"so that every facet may be discussed
and considered at great length."

No. That little psycho just
wants to watch a bug die.

Thurmond knew just how
obstructive a filibuster could be.

In 1957, he stalled
another civil rights bill

by speaking for a still-record
24 hours and 18 minutes straight,

while "he had his aide wait
in the cloakroom with a pail"

so he could relieve himself while still
keeping a foot on the Senate floor.

It's almost impressive to take
a morally disgusting act

and somehow make it
physically disgusting too.

It's like if Hitler delivered speeches
while publicly clipping his toenails.

Modern filibusters
no longer contain

the David-Blaine-esque-feat
of-endurance element.

In the seventies,
in the interests of efficiency,

senators agreed to no longer
require talking filibusters,

in the style of
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

or "Mr. Thurmond Goes
to the Bathroom in a Bucket."

If you just signal
your intent to filibuster

and have 41 votes on your side,
a bill is doomed.

Not to say that senators
don't sometimes choose

to stand and talk for hours,
it's just that when they do,

it's often a publicity stunt
or a protest.

Chris Murphy spoke for 15 hours
to draw attention to gun control.

Rand Paul filibustered Obama's
nominee for CIA director for 13 hours,

pausing only to eat fun-size candy
with spectacular incompetence.

Which had previously brought
a challenge in federal court

to the legality of the authorization
to target Awlaki in Yemen,

the following statement.

How are you eating
something so small that badly ?

It didn't even present the challenge
of a regular candy bar.

We've all gotten into the quagmire
of a normal-size Milky Way

and not been able to get out

until everything we know
and love is covered in caramel.

But that was fun-size !
It should've been easy !

At least Rand Paul stayed on topic,

unlike when Ted Cruz filibustered
against Obamacare.

Remember, the stated argument
for this tactic is:

it is supposed to be a vital means of
facilitating a full and robust debate.

I do not like green eggs and ham,
I do not like them, Sam I am.

Would you like them in a house ?
Would you like them with a mouse ?

I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.

Don't like them here or there,
Don't like them anywhere.

I do not like that man Ted Cruz.
I do not like his far-right views.

I do not like his stupid chin.
I do not like his smarmy grin.

I do not like him with a beard.
I do not like him freshly-sheared.

I do not like Ted Cruz at all,
That man Ted Cruz can suck my balls.

But, again: Cruz and Paul
didn't need to do that.

When you combine the fact
that it's easier to filibuster

with the increasingly partisan
nature of the Senate,

it's no surprise that its usage
has skyrocketed.

If you look at the number
of cloture votes,

the number during Eisenhower's
term, here, was two.

Whereas in Obama's eight years,
here, there were 506.

Which kind of undercuts the final
argument in favor of the filibuster:

that it encourages bipartisanship.

That if you have to get 60 votes
to end debate on a bill,

the parties will just
have to work together.

But the reality there is:
that is simply not happening.

Thanks to the filibuster,
many pieces of meaningful legislation,

some with bipartisan support,
have died,

from the Manchin-Toomey gun control
bill to the Paycheck Fairness Act

to the public option in Obamacare.

Senators don't so much brag
about what they've passed

as brag about
what they are going to obstruct.

Watch Mitch McConnell promising
that the Green New Deal

and Medicare for All won't see a vote
if they ever end up in his chamber.

None of those things
are gonna pass the Senate.

They won't even be voted on.
Think of me as the Grim Reaper:

the guy who's gonna
make sure

that socialism doesn't land
on the president's desk.

You really don't have to tell me
to think of you as the grim reaper.

Like if Trump said:
"Think of me as a bunch of trash bags"

"brought to life by an ancient curse
when a clown fucked a car alarm."

I'm way ahead of you.
I already think of you that way.

To recap the main arguments
in favor of the filibuster:

"We've always had it", we haven't.
"It enables debate", no it doesn't.

"Protects minorities",
not the ones you think.

"It encourages bipartisanship",
not even close.

It has become
so difficult to pass a law,

the big issues are being handled by
other branches of the government.

from immigration to climate change,

are being decided through
executive actions and court rulings.

So, why keep the filibuster ?
Some presidential candidates,

including Pete Buttigieg,
Steve Bullock and Elizabeth Warren,

want to get rid of it.

Before you get excited about
your favorite Democrats,

and also Steve Bullock,
calling for it to be abolished,

you should know... so has this guy.

We have to get rid of
what's called the filibuster rule.

We have to !

If we don't, the Republicans will
never get anything passed.

Exactly. Nothing can make you
question one of your beliefs

quite like Trump
unexpectedly sharing it.

There are endless opinions
that a person can have.

Inevitably, a few of them
will overlap with Donald Trump's.

He and I both enjoy a good hamberder.
We do.

We both think James Comey
is a big pasty goober. It's true !

Neither of us are willing to
Google Tiffany Trump's birthday.

We're not completely different.
But the fact that Trump is in favor

of ending the filibuster is a good
reminder of the serious risk here.

The side you agree
with won't always be in power.

Abolishing the filibuster would make it
easier for everyone to do things,

including people
you might not agree with.

There have been
hard lessons in this regard.

It used to be possible to filibuster
judicial nominations.

That was rolled back,
even for the Supreme Court,

and one consequence was last year's
50-to-48 confirmation

of Justice Sourpuss J. Boofs-A-Lot.

This is undeniably a gamble.
You may well feel that it's too risky.

I have come around to thinking
that it is a risk worth taking.

The Senate is supposed
to address America's problems

and the filibuster is making it
impossible for them to do that.

Some have suggested
merely reforming it,

maybe going back to forcing senators
to pay a physical price

and stand
and talk for hours again.

But as we have seen, some senators
are more than happy to do that,

even if they don't have to.

Do you really want to hear more

of Ted Cruz creepily reading you
bedtime stories ?

Or watch Rand Paul battle fun-sized
candy to a draw ? No, you don't.

So, that is why I'm arguing that
we should get rid of the filibuster.

What better way for me to do that

than with the exact kind
of big, stupid speech that I hate ?

So please, come with me,
as I filibuster the filibuster.

I'm not gonna talk for 15 hours.
It's completely unnecessary.

It sounds hard and we only
have a minute left of this show.

I'll just do the only parts
that anyone remembers anyway.

Here's the beginning part,
where I'm lucid and on-topic:

the filibuster has made the Senate
completely unable to perform its duties

and something has to be done,
my friends.

Something has to be done.

Let's jump to the fun part where
I somehow fail at eating junk food,

which is why I've brought this big
plastic candy cane full of M&Ms.

How is this so difficult ?

Don't help me,
I can do this on my own.

It's harder than it looks !

Let's cut straight to the part
where I make an important point

while also
urinating into a bucket.

That's better.

The point here is, the more
you learn about the filibuster,

the more it appears to be a historical
mistake that's not serving us well.

Hold on. Don't look at me.
Nobody look at me.

There she goes.

While it is good to give the minority
party a voice in the Senate,

it should not come at the cost
of getting anything done.

Let's jump forward 15 hours
to my final, exhausted point.

What I'm essentially saying:
requiring bills to have 60 votes

is like pouring coffee out
of a good cup into a saucer

and then lapping it up
like a cat.

Sure, people used to think
it was a good idea. Yes.

But at some point,
someone needs to ask:

"Does this make sense, or is it
incredibly fucking stupid ?"

That is our show. Thank you
for watching. See you next week.

This is the part where my voice
gives out and I collapse. Good night !