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How to diaper your way through a 15-hour filibuster

Questions arose about peeing during Sen. Chris Murphy's gun control marathon.


Mary Emily O'Hara


Posted on Jun 16, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 2:37 pm CDT

But…how do they pee?

That was one question likely asked by millions on Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) forced a 15-hour Senate debate on gun control laws by refusing to yield the Senate floor.

In doing so, Murphy ultimately succeeded in getting Republicans to agree to a vote on universal background checks and gun bans for those on the terrorist watchlist. It was a step forward for gun control advocates, pushed by the desperation in the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting and death of 49 people in a gay bar on Saturday night.

For the filibuster, Murphy literally didn’t move from his desk for over half a day, starting at 11am Wednesday and going into the early morning on Thursday—which raised the question: How does one survive a filibuster? More to the point: How does one go to the bathroom?

Murphy’s marathon debate on gun laws was the most high-profile filibuster since Texas senator Wendy Davis stood in that state’s legislature for 11 hours in order to block the restrictive anti-abortion bill S.B. 5. Davis later revealed to the media that she’d had a catheter fitted by a doctor who visited the statehouse for a last-minute procedure. She also wore running shoes and a back brace.

Murphy hasn’t yet admitted to using a catheter, which typically consists of a tube inserted into the urethra that carries urine to a bag, but it’s highly likely that he did just that—or donned an adult diaper. In order to continue holding the floor, a senator must not leave their desk or sit down. That means bathroom breaks are out of the question, back and foot pain are a given, and eating and drinking breaks are…well, complicated.

According to the Connecticut Post, Murphy’s marathon debate was fueled by Mountain Dew and Doritos. DC insider newspaper Roll Call reported what could have been a slight departure from Senate rules: Though tradition prohibits senators from eating or drinking anything other than “milk or water” on the floor, Murphy’s support contingent of Democrats were spotted carrying trays loaded with sustenance for the filibustering senator.

[Newtown, Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth] Esty’s tray was complete with a can of the Red Bull energy drink, which she said Murphy “lives on,” an apple, hot dogs, Doritos, Powerade and Mountain Dew. She also had deodorant “in case it goes really long.”   

In addition to the beverage allowance (which clearly has expanded from “milk or water” to include Red Bull and Mountain Dew), the Senate has a long-standing tradition called the Candy Desk. The Candy Desk, currently occupied by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), dates back to 1965, when a California senator made the most of his desk’s location near the entrance and began handing out candy to fellow senators. Between the Candy Desk and smuggled trays of junk food, Murphy was probably pretty cracked-out by the time his filibuster ended at around 2am.

On Twitter, as Americans devoured the filibuster late into the night, many expressed concern over Murphy’s ability to retain human functionality given the Senate floor rules.

By the end of Murphy’s filibuster, over 40 Senate Democrats and two Republicans had joined in to shame congressional inaction after hundreds of horrifying mass shootings have rocked the nation. Some of the most rousing speeches of the night were given by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and even Candy Desk-occupying Republican Pat Toomey.

Many social media users noted, and bemoaned, the absence of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)—who had strangely departed from the Capitol just hours before the filibuster was set to begin.

But it was the end of Murphy’s filibuster—not concerns over his bladder bursting, or skyrocketing blood sugar levels from all those soft drinks—that had the most impact. 

Just before finally yielding the floor and ending the 15-hour debate, Murphy propped up a large photo of 6-year-old Dylan Hockey—one of the 20 young children murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Murphy described how schoolteacher Anne Marie Murphy tried to save Hockey by wrapping her arms around him in order to shield him from the rain of bullets from killer Adam Lanza’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S carbine military assault rifle. Both Anne Marie Murphy and Hockey died in the shooting, but were later discovered in an embrace.

This morning, Murphy returned to the Senate floor. According to Reuters, he said, “We’ll try again today to move forward with amendments from both sides, and once there is an agreement to do so we’ll update everyone.”

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*First Published: Jun 16, 2016, 1:31 pm CDT