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WASHINGTON: Democratic leader in the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi set a record on Wednesday by speaking for more than eight hours on the subject of immigration, eclipsing a previous world landmark on speeches widely credited to Indian diplomat and defense minister VK Krishna Menon, who addressed the United Nations in January 1957 for seven hours and 48 minutes on the Kashmir issue.
Pelosi, who is 78, began speaking at 10:04 am Washington time on Wednesday and finished her speech at 6:11 p.m. local time, eight hours and seven minutes after she began, eclipsing what Congressional historians said was the previous House record of five-hour and 15-minute speech about a tariff overhaul given in 1909 by a Missouri House member.
But a broader search beyond Washington DC brought into play Menon, whose speakathon at the UN stretched across two days (23 and 24 January 1957) in two sessions of five hours and two hours 48 minutes, between which he had to be hospitalized briefly for exhaustion. Fidel Castro is generally credited with the second longest speech – a four and half hour (269 minutes) effort at the General Assembly on 26 September 1960.
Pelosi comfortably eclipse both even though she struggled just after the five-hour mark, sniffing repeatedly from what she suggested was an allergic reaction to the dust from the House carpeting. She regrouped as she wiped her nose and joked that she expected to get hungry or thirsty, not get a red nose from dust. “I never thought I’d get sniffles from the rug,” she said, telling her fellow lawmakers, “But I can handle it if you can.” They barely hung in, even though they had the liberty to drift in and out of the House.
House rules allowed the party leader’s one-minute speech time to be extended indefinitely as long as she did not sit down or even take a restroom break. The 78-year old California lawmaker, who was been criticized in some quarters for being too “old” to bear the mantle of Democratic leadership in Congress, was on her feet and spoke without pause for eight hours – in four-inch heels, someone noted — except to sip water occasionally.
Speaking primarily on the so-called Dreamers, people brought into the US illegally as children, Pelosi, supplied by a stream of notes from her staff, read scores of stories about their hopes, aspirations, and fears after President Trump last year announced the end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gave them temporary status in the United States.
Rescinding DACA will affect some 800,000 Dreamers, including hundreds of young Indian adults who face the threat of deportation. In fact, scores of Indian Dreamers began gathering on Capitol Hill on Thursday to draw attention to the plight of legal high-skilled immigrants stuck in decades long employment based green card backlog. Under the banner of Skilled Immigrants in America, they will be visiting dozens of Senators and Congressmen to raise awareness on an issue that has convulsed U.S politics.
Pelosi herself is from California, and her constituency (12th Congressional District) includes the immigrant heavy and 80-per cent Democrat-leaning San Francisco city and suburbs. A Democrat win in the nationwide midterm elections to the House in November will return her to the Speakership, a post that is second in line of succession to the White House (after the vice-president).